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Many experiments in communal living 
were instituted l>y religious groups, but 
others were entirely social in concept. Life 
at Brook Farm, in Robert Owen's colony, 
in the Oneila Community, and a score of 
others, is interestingly reconstructed. 

Humanitarian reforms and crusades rep- 
resent the other phase of the movements. 
Mrs* Tyler, "exasperated by all the silly 
twaddle being written about the eccentrici- 
ties'" of the early American republic, shows 
these movements ami the leaders - even 
the crackpots - as manifestations of the 
American creed of perfectibility* 

Prison and educational reforms, work 
for delincj uentn and unfortunates, crusades 
for world peace-, temperance, and women's 
rights Hourishc-d. AH to be overshadowed by 
the atitiHlavory movement and Hiibmerged 
temporarily by the (livil V^ar. 

FRKKiMHirs FKRMKNT pictures the 
days when the putU-rn for th* American 
way of life and I IK- f midamentals of tin* 
American faith were being set by crusaders 
who fought for righteousness. The changes 
in our social picture* have* altered the form 
of the humanitarian movements but riot the 

Intcrpretati ve and 
critical., the book shown 
the ferment of the pe- 
riod and the urge to re- 
form, found in every 
phase of life, to be the 

result of tllO fusion Of A WAHIIMI-. 

religious freedom and ^^^^^^ 

m m t, -m ^ 

political democracy. 




The University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 

Table of Contents 

Part One. The Faith of the Young Republic, page i 
Dynamic Democracy 5 


Evangelical Religion 23 


Part Two. Cults and Utopias, page 46 
Transcendentalism 47 


Millennialism and Spiritualism 68 


The Stake inZion 86 


Religious Communism in America 108 


The Shaker Communities 140 


American Utopias of Religious Origin 166 




Utopian Socialism in America 196 


Part Three. Humanitarian Crusades, page 225 
Education and the American Faith 227 


Reform for the Criminal 265 


Wards of the State 286 


The Temperance Crusade 308 


Denials of Democratic Principles 351 


The Crusade for Peace 396 


The Rights of Women 424 



450. WOMEN ORGANIZE, 452. 

Like a Fire-bell in the Night 463 


A House Divided 513 


Epilogue 548 

Bibliography and Notes 551 

Index 590 

List of Illustrations 

A Western camp meeting; the Fox sisters 82 

Orestes Brownson; William Miller; "Last Day Tokens" 83 

Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840*5 102 

Communal settlements in the United States (map) 113 

Amana Village; the Brother House at Ephrata 132 

Father George Rapp; William Keil; Willie KeiTs funeral train 133 

The Shaker sacred dance and wheel dance 150 

A Shaker sister; Elder Frederick W. Evans; Shaker craftsmanship . . 151 


The Shaker family house at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky 1 5 2 

Shaker women preparing medicinal herbs l62 

Brook Farm; the dining room at Fruitlands r82 

John Humphrey Noyes, Perfectionist l8 3 

Robert Owen ! " 

Robert Owen's dream phalanstery and New Harmony as it was .... 216 

Frances Wright and Nashoba 21 7 

An alphabet of jingles from a primer of 1800 228 

The Auburn cell block prison plan 2 75 

The Pennsylvania prison plan for solitary confinement 27? 

Deacon Giles's distillery, a temperance dream 33 s 

The demons in possession at Deacon Giles's distillery 3 3 2 

The original Washingtonians 34 

"The Temple of Sobriety" and "Love's Eclipse'* 344 

"The Drunkard's Progress" 345 

Benjamin Rush, universal reformer 4^ 

ElihuBurritt; "Jamie and the Bishop" 47 

Oneida women at work * 43 

Women crusaders: Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan 
B. Anthony, and Mary Lyon 439 

An early women's rights convention 45* 

An abolition convention 49 

Aslave trader's advertisement 5 |8 

"The Resurrection of Henry 'Box' Brown," an antislavery cartoon. 530 


The Faith of the Young Republic 

The time has come when the experiment is to be made whether the 
world is to be emancipated and rendered happy, or whether the whole 
creation shall groan and travail together in pain. ... If it had been the 
design of Heaven to establish a powerful nation in the full enjoyment 
of civil and religious liberty, where all the energies of man might find 
full scope and excitement, on purpose to show the world by one great 
successful experiment of what man is capable . . . where should such 
an experiment have been made but in tms country! . , . The light of 
such a hemisphere shaU go up to Heaven, it will throw its beams beyond 
the waves; it will shine into the darkness there, and be comprehended 
it will awaken desire, and hope, and effort, and produce revolutions and 
overturnings until the world is free. . . . Floods have been poured 
upon the rising flame, but they can no more extinguish it than they can 
extinguish the flames of Aetna. Still it burns, and still the mountain 
murmurs; and soon it will explode with voices and thunderings, and 
great earthquakes. . . . Then will the trumpet of jubilee sound, and 
earth's debased millions will leap from the dust, and shake off their 
chains, and cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" x 

With this vision of the future as a new and glorious epoch Lyman 
Beecher a hundred years ago voiced the exuberant optimism of the 
young American republic in which he lived. In that time, if ever in 
American history, the spirit of man seemed free and the individual 
could assert his independence of choice in matters of faith and 
theory. The militant democracy of the period was a declaration of 
faith in man and in the perfectibility of his institutions. The idea 
of progress so inherent in the American way of life and so much a 
part of the philosophy of the age was at the same time a challenge 
to traditional beliefs and institutions and an impetus to experimen- 
tation with new theories and humanitarian reforms. 

The period was one of restless ferment. An expanding West was 
beckoning the hungry and dissatisfied to an endless search for the 
pot of gold* Growing industrialization and urbanization in the East, 
new means of communication and transportation, new marvels of 


invention and science, and advance in the mechanization of industry, 
all were dislocating influences of mounting importance. And increas- 
ing immigration was bringing into the country thousands of Euro- 
peans who were dissatisfied with the difficult conditions of life in their 
native lands. Nor did religion place any restraint on the unrest; re- 
curring revivals, emphasis on individual conversion and personal 
salvation, and the multiplicity of sects, all made religion responsive 
to the restlessness of the time rather than a calming influence upon 
it. The pious editors of the writings of a Shaker seeress asserted in 
their preface to her revelations: 

Let any candid people, endowed with a common share of discern- 
ment seriously examine the signs of the times, and view the many won- 
derful events and extraordinary changes that are constantly taking place 
in the moral religious and political world, as well as in the natural ele- 
ments, through the operations of Providence, and they cannot but con- 
sider the present age as commencing the most extraordinary and mo- 
mentous era that ever took place on earth. 2 

Each in his own way the citizens of the young republic rec- 
ognized the ferment of the era and made answer to its challenge. 
Itinerant revivalists and the most orthodox of clergymen alike 
responded with missionary zeal. For an influential few transcenden- 
talism proved to be a satisfying reconciliation between the rational- 
ism of their training and the romanticism of the age, while among 
the less intellectual, adventism, spiritualism, Mormonism, and per- 
fectionism each won adherents who founded churches and preached 
their creeds with fervor. To these sects were added the cults and 
communities transplanted from abroad. The combination of reli- 
gious toleration, overflowing optimism, and cheap lands caused 
Europeans of unorthodox faith or unusual social ideas to seek asy- 
lum in America. Each such sect, each isolated religious community, 
each social Utopia, was an evidence of the tolerant, eclectic spirit of 
the young republic, and each made its contribution to the culture 
of the land that gave it sanctuary. 

The desire to perfect human institutions was the basic cause for 
each sect and community, and this same desire lay at the roots of 
all the many social reform movements of the period. The American 
reformer was the product of evangelical religion, which presented 
to every person the necessity for positive action to save his own 


soul, and dynamic frontier democracy, which was rooted deep in a 
belief in the worth of the individual. Born of this combination, the 
reformer considered reform at once his duty and his right, and he 
did not limit his activities to one phase of social betterment. Edu- 
cation, temperance, universal peace, prison reform, the rights of 
women, the evils of slavery, the dangers of Catholicism, all were 
legitimate fields for his efforts. 

The American reformer knew that he did not work alone. He 
recognized that each cause he espoused was a part of a world of 
progress and aspiration, but peculiarly his was the freedom to ex- 
periment, for in his homeland there was room and hospitality for 
adventure. Happy in his privilege, he acknowledged his duty and 
accepted for his age the sign of his crusade. It is with him, his quest 
for perfection, and his faith in his right to be free that this story 

The sources for the story are many and varied. Such was the 
volume of contemporary material on the American scene that one 
hardy author introduced his own book with these verses: 

O books! books! books! it makes me sick 
To think how ye are multiplied, 
Like Egypt's frogs, ye poke up thick 
Your ugly heads on every side. 

If a new thought but shakes its ear 
Or wags its tail, tho' starved it look, 
The world the precious news must hear 
The presses groan, and lo! a book. 8 

In its first half century the United States was visited by scores of 
curious European travelers who came to investigate the strange new 
world that was being created in the Western Hemisphere. In their 
accounts of the experience they praised, or condemned, the institu- 
tions and national characteristics spread out before them, seized 
avidly upon all differences from the European norm, and worried 
each peculiarity beyond recognition and beyond any just limit of 
its importance. Americans themselves, with the keen sensitiveness 
of the young and the boasting enthusiasm natural to vigorous cre- 
ators of new ideas and institutions, examined the work of their 
hands and, believing it good, reassured themselves and answered 
their calumniators in a flood of aggressive replies. Every American 


interested in a reform movement, a new cult, or a Utopian scheme 
burst into print, adding another to the rapidly growing list of po- 
lemic books and pamphlets. From this variety of sources it is possible 
to recapture something of the inward spirit that gave rise to the 
more familiar and more tangible events of America's youth.* 

* A general bibliography and the bibliographical notes for each chapter are given 
in a separate section, beginning on page 551. 


Dynamic Democracy 

It was a long process of democratization, begun before the signing 
of the Declaration of Independence, accelerated by the Revolu- 
tion, and continued through the influence of the frontier, that made 
American society, in the words of the French traveler, Michel 
Chevalier, in 1834, "essentially and radically a democracy, not in 
name merely but in deed." l At least a brief review of this vigor- 
ous, dynamic democracy must precede the story of the manifold 
movements, theories, and crusades of the early nineteenth century, 
for which it provided the fundamental background. 


It is perhaps doubtful whether the self-exiled Europeans who 
peopled the American colonies had chosen the braver course in 
attempting to solve their problems by escape to a new world, but 
it is impossible to doubt their independence of thought, their vigor 
of action, and their willingness to work hard to translate their 
dreams into the reality of new wealth and new institutions. For 
them the rights of the individual were axiomatic, and self-govern- 
ment was a natural assumption as well as a geographical necessity. 
Their philosophy was based upon the Calvinistic ideas of the Puri- 
tans and the teachings of the great English theorists of the Parlia- 
mentarian revolt of the seventeenth century, who had emphasized 
the importance of the individual and his union with other indi- 
viduals in organizations based upon mutual consent. 

The Calvinism of many of the early settlers tended toward re- 
publicanism and was democratic in its implications. 2 The Separatist 
movement that resulted in the Congregationalism of New England 
placed further emphasis upon the local church units and the indi- 
vidual members, and Congregationalism found its political counter- 
part in the New England town meeting, where democracy reached 
a high level. The followers of Roger Williams, who established 
both the colony of Rhode Island and the American Baptist church, 
added an element of great importance to American thinking in 
their insistence upon the complete separation of church and state 
and the absolute freedom of the individual to choose for himself in 


matters of religion. The Quakers of Pennsylvania contributed the 
pacifism characteristic of their faith and a deep-seated hatred of 
slavery that was to bear fruit in a later day. 

Three thousand miles of sea, to be traversed in colonial days only 
with the danger and discomfort of a long and tedious voyage, caused 
the European individual transplanted in America to feel himself 
separated from his old world. He found it easy to accept the idea 
of a natural, "absolute, unrelated man" who existed and had ac- 
quired property before governments were developed to make de- 
mands upon his liberty and property. Since he must combine with 
other colonists to meet common problems and make use of com- 
mon opportunities, he accepted without question the idea that gov- 
ernment sprang from the people and is the agent of the people. 
It was natural, therefore, for American political leaders to accept 
John Locke, the great exponent of English constitutional develop- 
ment, as their spokesman, the interpreter of their ideas of natural 
laws, individual liberties, and the right of revolution when they 
were oppressed by an illegitimate use of authority. 

The presence of the frontier was of tremendous importance in 
the development of American ideas of government. Each colony 
had "back-country" districts that were thinly populated, subject 
to Indian attacks, and far removed from the political and cultural 
institutions of the tidewater areas. The individualism of the frontier 
early came into conflict with the growing authoritarianism of colo- 
nial governments, and out of that friction came a continual pressure 
for further democratization and for greater representation for the 
newer and poorer districts. At the same time these frontier areas 
felt little need for formal governmental control and came gradually 
to believe that, beyond protection from Indian attack or foreign 
invasion and the securing of the liberties of the individual, there was 
no reason for elaborate government. 

Without benefit of Darwin, survival of the fittest was the law of 
the frontier, and individual initiative, fortitude, and ability were 
more important than governmental forms. Owing to the very na- 
ture of his life, the frontiersman was a believer in laissez faire doc- 
trines and in the limitation of government to the barest necessities 
for individual freedom. Neither tidewater aristocracy nor absentee 
imperial dictation was acceptable to the Westerners of any of the 


colonies. Although few frontiersmen had ever heard of John 
Locke, his philosophy was suited to the conditions of frontier life. 
The gradual development of political and cultural institutions in 
the tidewater areas served as a bridge between English ideas and 
forms and the isolation and independence of the frontier, but these 
institutions were subjected constantly to the leveling influence of 
frontier equalitarianism. 

In the mid-eighteenth century the teachings of the French phi- 
losophes were added to this colonial heritage. The doctrines of 
Rousseau, in so far as they were known, fell upon well-prepared 
ground, for men closely in contact with nature could have found 
nothing incongruous in Rousseau's arguments for liberty and 
equality. Montesquieu's theories of the separation of powers were 
quite in accord with colonial ideas, for sharp divisions already ex- 
isted between executive, legislative, and judicial functions, and the 
colonials delighted in imposing checks upon the authority of their 
royal governors. The doctrines of the physiocrats, too, seemed 
logical to a people whose livelihood was dependent upon the soil 
or the sea, and later the theory of laissez f aire struck a sympathetic 
cord in those who were irritated by the mercantilistic restrictions 
of an absentee imperialistic government. In short, American condi- 
tions made possible and natural the creation of institutions more 
nearly in accord with the doctrines of Locke and the philosophes 
than Europe or America realized. 

The mounting crisis in the relations between England and her 
colonies called forth these political ideas that had been latent in the 
minds of Americans, and their formulation in the Declaration of 
Independence was of vital importance to the new nation. The 
theory of the Declaration can be stated briefly: The individual 
existed before government and yas endowed with natural rights, 
a part of which he delegated to government in order to protect the 
rest; therefore, when governments prove unsatisfactory, the people 
have a right to alter or amend them. The natural rights that are the 
basis of all political rights were explicitly stated: All men are 
created equal; all have been endowed by God with certain inal- 
ienable rights, of which they cannot be deprived by themselves or 
by any other power; among these rights are life, liberty, and the 
pursuit of happiness. 


Looking about him at a world in which such rights were denied, 
Jefferson wished to have as the foundation stone of the democratic 
system he saw for the future the broadest possible statement of the 
rights of men as individuals and citizens. The Declaration impels 
acceptance of the idea that governmental power is derived from the 
consent of the governed and has no authority save that delegated to 
it by the people. 


The state constitutions drawn up to supplant the old colonial 
governments did not evidence a full acceptance of the "self-evident 
truths" of the Declaration. The very patriots who heartily ap- 
plauded the sweeping equalitarianism of the Declaration proceeded 
to draw up constitutions in which political equality was denied. 
The principles to which they subscribed in theory were too ad- 
vanced to be put into operation at once, and, after paying respect 
to them in well-turned phrases, the new state constitutions em- 
bodied many of the old distinctions between rich and poor, edu- 
cated and ignorant, religious conformists and nonconformists, that 
had marked the colonial governments. Each state constitution con- 
tained some reiteration of the idea of government by consent and 
of the right to life, liberty, and property. Each stated that political 
power was "vested in and derived from" the people. Public officials 
were declared to be responsible to the people, and the civil liberties 
of the citizens were protected in bills of rights embodying the prin- 
ciples of cherished liberties won by countless struggles throughout 
English history. Both, from desire and from necessity great steps 
were taken in the liberalization of institutions. Many members of 
the old governing class had been Tories and had no part in making 
the new constitutions. It was necessary to make concessions to the 
masses of citizens in order to win allegiance to the new govern- 
ments and support for the Revolution. 

It was inevitable that everywhere the suffrage should be broad- 
ened to include all members of the middle class, which was bearing 
the brunt of the war. Nowhere was immediate manhood suffrage 
or the universal right to hold office introduced, but more men voted 
than ever before, and popular consent was widespread enough to 
root the new constitutions deep in the lives of the people. Further 
liberalization could be obtained by legal processes of amendment 


when the demand grew irresistible. In some states the suffrage re- 
quirement was on the basis of taxpaying, in others a specified in- 
come from freehold estates was required, in still others religious 
requirements were added. Since most citizens paid some taxes and 
land was cheap, probably few men were permanently deprived of 
the right to vote. But the right to hold office was much more care- 
fully safeguarded, with the intent to keep government in the con- 
trol of the well-educated and well-to-do. Religious and property 
requirements together were increased, so that thousands were de- 
prived of the privilege of seeking public office. Only well-to-do 
Christians were permitted to be legislators, and in most states none 
but the rich might hope to be governor. Although the theory was 
accepted that all government rested upon the consent of the gov- 
erned, only the taxpaying, property-owning governed could give 
that consent or participate in that government; although liberty of 
conscience was another accepted principle, often only a Protestant 
was permitted to hold office under a government guaranteeing such 

So far as the form of government was concerned there was little 
of radical change in the transition from colony to state, and there 
was as great a uniformity in the structure of government in all the 
states as there had been in the colonial period. There was a general 
distrust of the executive a relic of the resentment against the 
colonial governors and the legislature was looked upon as the 
guardian of popular rights, but even the legislature was hemmed in 
by the operation of the widely accepted principles of the separa- 
tion of powers and the need for checks and balances. Government 
was considered a potential danger and of dubious benefit. James 
Truslow Adams quotes a New England farmer of the period who 
asserted that the country did not need "any goviner but the guvi- 
ner of the univarse and under him a States General to Consult with 
the wrest of the united states for the good of the whole." 8 

Although a free people did not require powerful or elaborate 
organs of government, there were some negative activities that 
might be undertaken to achieve the equality of opportunity that 
was the dream of free men. The Anglican church was disestablished 
in the South before 1800, and even in New England, where the 
Congregationalism created by the Puritan theocracy was strong, 


the dissenter was permitted to offer a certificate of allegiance to 
another faith in order to free himself from the church tax. In the 
early years of the nineteenth century Calvinism was forced to give 
up its last vestige of state support, and religious restriction in suf- 
frage, officeholding, and taxpaying disappeared from the land. 

The new state legislatures turned also to an attack upon that 
other stronghold of privilege the laws of primogeniture and en- 
tail. By 1785 Virginia led the way by making real as well as per- 
sonal property subject to ordinary laws of inheritance. More or 
less promptly other states followed Virginia's example until by the 
end of Washington's first administration these special privileges of 
a landed aristocracy had disappeared. 

Another blow was struck at the "aristocracy of birth and rank" 
in the confiscation of the estates of many Loyalist landowners. In 
the course of the Revolution, the supporters of which at no time 
constituted a majority of the population, thousands of the most 
substantial citizens had left the country voluntarily or had been 
forced into exile, and their estates were sold by the states in small 
parcels to enterprising fanners. New men appeared in the commer- 
cial world, too, to rebuild the business enterprises of the exiled 
Loyalists. From Maine to Georgia the Revolution meant a shift in 
the class structure and the emergence of new men into positions of 
power. The sense of social change that everywhere prevailed was 
well expressed in the words of a contemporary South Carolina 
writer: "There is nothing more common than to confound the 
terms of the American Revolution with those of the late American 
war. The American war is over, but this is far from being the case 
with the American Revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the 
first act of that great drama is closed." 

Although the theory of the Revolution was undoubtedly more 
democratic than its practice, the social and intellectual revolution 
was as evident as the political, and the Revolutionary years estab- 
lished an American tradition and American faith different from 
those of the European countries from which the colonists had 
come. By the end of the Revolution it was apparent that the new 
nation was to endure without an established church, without a 
feudal aristocracy or a military caste, and without an elaborate 
bureaucracy extending a controlling influence over every phase of 


its development. On the positive side this American tradition em- 
phasized the necessity for education and for humanitarian reforms 
of many kinds, but it showed preference for the greatest diversity 
in achieving these ends. 


For some the war against England had been only the first act in 
the real revolution; for others it had already carried social change 
too far. The economic distress of the years 1785-86 increased the 
dissatisfaction of those who felt that the revolution had stopped in 
mid-course, and the leftist movement reached its climax in Massa- 
chusetts in an armed revolt of debtor fanners led by Daniel Shays, 
a veteran of the War of Independence. Shays's rebellion attracted 
wide attention and called forth expressions of opinion from startled 
leaders who rose to defend the well-ordered control of society that 
had, they felt, been challenged from below.* 

Unsuccessful in its main objectives, Shays's rebellion was not only 
an impetus to the movement for a stronger national government 
but also a warning to the entrenched wellborn, a class already dubi- 
ous of the value of democratic institutions. If the years from the 
Revolution to the safe establishment of the Constitution may be 
called "the critical period," it is partly in the sense that further 
democratization seemed blocked by the privileged classes. Even in 
the Revolutionary period few of the leaders had been genuine be- 
lievers in democracy; the implications of the theory of the rule of 
the majority were frightening to them. The chaotic conditions of 
the succeeding years cooled what little ardor they still had and 
convinced them that a strong government was necessary, a gov- 
ernment that could secure property from assault and protect the 
established order. The aristocracy looked to the Constitutional 
Convention that assembled in May 1787 to provide a governmental 
structure that could be relied upon to maintain the ascendancy of 
men of wealth and education. 

In their correspondence, in the debates of the Constitutional Con- 
vention, and in their public addresses many of the conservative 
leaders stated frankly their distrust of the common people. Elbridge 
Gerry of Massachusetts, an erstwhile liberal, admitted regretfully 
that he had been too republican in the past but had been "taught by 


experience the danger of the levelling spirit," so that he now be- 
lieved the troubles of the country were the result of "an excess of 
democracy." 5 Edmund Randolph agreed that the evils of the times 
had "originated in the turbulence and follies of democracy," and 
the eminent Pennsylvanian, Gouveneur Morris, announced that 
there was no more justification for giving the vote to the "ignorant 
and dependent" than for giving it to children. 6 

The classic expressions of this distrust of democracy are in the 
writings of the despairing Federalists, Fisher Ames of Massachu- 
setts and Timothy Dwight of Connecticut. Convinced that sub- 
mission to democratic institutions would spell the doom of the 
nation, these pessimists never ceased predicting the ultimate fate of 
the country they professed to love but for which they saw no hope. 
Ames lamented that "our country is too big for union, too sordid 
for patriotism, too democratic for liberty," and Dwight, the col- 
lege president and divine, believed that the great object of democ- 
racy was to destroy every trace of civilization in the world and 
force mankind back into a savage state. 7 All this fear of democracy 
was summed up in the gross but unequivocal statement of Hamil- 
ton: "Your people, sir your people is a great beast!" 


With apprehension and hatred thick in the air, it was remarkable 
that the delegates who assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 to make 
"a more perfect union" were as statesmanlike and farsighted as 
they proved to be. They were men who had been concerned with 
public affairs for many years. They represented the army, the bar, 
the diplomatic corps, and various other branches of government 
service. None of the Revolutionary radicals were present. It was 
inevitable in these circumstances that the Constitution should be a 
conservative document. Wherever necessary the makers of the 
Constitution made such adjustments and compromises as were re- 
quired to produce a strong, workable federal government, but they 
did not intend to establish a democratic government, and their re- 
jection of the right of the masses to rule is inherent in the document 
they drew up. They were "elite conscious," and they identified the 
interests of their own class with the interests of the general public, 
their devotion to their group with solicitude for the public welfare. 

Among other matters the debate on the political future of the 


lands recently opened for settlement in the West showed clearly 
the aristocratic sentiment of the convention. The members had no 
illusions as to the independent spirit of the "Settlements," and they 
felt the class prejudice that had been created by earlier disputes 
with the back country. Gouveneur Morris declared that the "busy 
haunts of men, not the remote wilderness, is the proper school of 
political talents." He believed that "the rule of representation ought 
to be so fixed as to secure to the Atlantic states a prevalence in the 
National Councils." Only when James Wilson of Pennsylvania 
stated, with common sense and cool logic, that discrimination 
against the West would but duplicate the errors whereby Great 
Britain had caused the American Revolution, did the agitated mem- 
bers decide to admit the Western territories on an equal basis with 
the original states whenever their population should make such ac- 
tion necessary. Wilson's calm statement that when the West should 
acquire a majority it would control "whether we will or no" was 

As soon as the Constitution was published and its terms became 
known, opposition appeared. Excitement was intense among those 
informed and interested, and every available agency of publicity 
and propaganda was used in influencing voters and delegates. It is 
difficult to estimate the actual public support of the Constitution, 
since only about one third of the male adults could vote in the elec- 
tions and many qualified voters abstained through indifference or 
ignorance. 8 But from analyses of the debates of the ratification con- 
ventions it is possible to make some general statements. The aris- 
tocracy was fairly well satisfied with the new Constitution; the 
democrats fought against it. Small farmers and the back-country 
men, especially in areas where the burden of debt was heavy, were 
generally opposed to ratification, whereas creditors and holders of 
public securities favored it. The advocates of paper money and of 
stay laws for debtors were against it, and only the desire for pro- 
tection from the Indians could bring the frontiersmen into line in 
favor of a strong government. But however close the margin, the 
Constitution was ratified, and with its acceptance the American 
way of life entered upon a new phase; the democratization begun 
in the colonial period and advanced by the Revolution found new 
channels under the Constitution along which to proceed. 



The debates over ratification had shown a dynamic democracy 
among the people that could not be denied. A national bill of rights 
guaranteeing civil liberties was formulated by the first Congress 
under the Constitution, while legislation within the states and 
amendments to state constitutions, or in several cases entirely new 
constitutions, gave evidence of the force of these democratic tend- 

In the East, as one conservative said, good citizens trembled and 
awaited the catastrophe, while the more vigorous among them 
fought energetically to halt the advance of democracy and its de- 
mands for more elective offices, shorter tenures, speedier justice, 
and manhood suffrage. Democratic forces proved too strong, how- 
ever, and one by one the constitutions of the Eastern states were 
liberalized, until Virginia, the Carolinas, and Rhode Island remained 
the sole strongholds of aristocratic control In those states the pre- 
dominance of the aristocracy was maintained until the Civil War 
or shortly before. But all in all, the constitutional changes within 
the states in the first half century of the republic made possible the 
development of democratic political institutions and furnished the 
basic foundation for the wide range of social sfi3 economic reform 
movements of the period. 

The new national government under the Constitution was ad- 
ministered for a decade by conservatives who based their actions on 
the principle of the superiority of a ruling class. They believed sin- 
cerely that government could be safely entrusted only to the "well- 
born, well-educated, and well-to-do," and that the masses of the 
people should be filled with gratitude to receive the benefits of 
the wise administration of public affairs by these few. This system of 
"overhead management" was apparent in the work of Hamilton 
and became the general tone of the Federalist administrations. But 
the domination of the wellborn was destined to be brief. As soon as 
the first party of the common man was organized under the leader- 
ship of Jefferson, a bitter campaign against the wealthy and well- 
born was instituted. The Jeffersonian Revolution of 1800 ended all 
hope of establishing on American soil any party or group that openly 
upheld the rights of the few over the many. 

Jeffersonian democracy did not mean any fundamental aitcra- 


tion in the Constitution or any immediate changes in the structure 
of government. It meant that control shifted from the commercial 
Northeast led by Hamilton and the Federalists to the agrarian 
masses dominated by the landowning aristocracy of Southern 
planters. It condemned the granting of special privileges to bankers, 
merchants, and manufacturers and appealed to the agriculturalists 
who made up the bulk of the population in 1800.* In a country 
where land was plentiful and cheap, Jeffersonian agrarianism, thus 
defined and expounded, spread rapidly. Every new state added to 
the Union increased the opponents of Federalism in national poli- 
tics. The way for a triumphant democracy was being prepared even 
though Jeff ersonianism was deep-rooted in the interests of a planter 


That triumph was the work of the Western frontier. Frederick 
Jackson Turner, the historian whose name is identified with the 
frontier, has wisely said that the West is at bottom a form of so- 
ciety, rather than an area. From the beginning each colony had its 
frontier, its West: areas in which men of courage and vigor won 
new opportunities, where land was cheap or free and the struggle 
for existence, although severe, brought rewards commensurate with 
the effort expended. There the "cake of custom" was broken, old 
standards were discarded, new ideals and new institutions were set 
up. The back country was relatively near the Atlantic Coast in the 
early days, but it was pushed farther west, north, or south decade 
by decade. In 1790 one hundred thousand had reached the Missis- 
sippi Valley. The census of 1810 showed a Western population of 
a million, that of 1830 gave the West more than three and a half 
millions, and that of 1840 made the total six millions. 

Those who went to the West were poor, but they could not 
have been destitute. The cost of transportation was not insignifi- 
cant, the price of land, although low, made some capital necessary, 
and the settler and his family must have support until the new land 
could be brought under cultivation. During years of prosperity 
when money was plentiful, thousands of substantial settlers sought 
homes in the West. Single men might brave the wilderness without 
resources, but only in case of general economic depression and dire 
distress did men with families attempt to do so. In the hard times 


after 1815 the westward routes were jammed, as the East and the 
older West poured their poor and discontented onto the newer 

The East was alarmed at the loss of population, and understand- 
ably so. The creation of a democratic farming population in the 
new territories would endanger the control of the older states in 
national affairs and weaken the influence of the commercial and 
manufacturing interests. Cheap lands in the West would decrease 
land values at home, while the migration of Eastern farmers and 
immigrants would reduce the supply of cheap labor for Eastern in- 
dustries and break down the well-ordered structure of Eastern 
economic and social life. President Timothy Dwight of Yale Col- 
lege wrote thus about the emigrants: 

In a political view, their emigration is of very serious utility to the 
ancient settlements. All countries contain restless inhabitants; men im- 
patient of labour; men, who will contract debts without intending to 
pay them; who had rather talk than work; whose vanity persuades them 
that they are wise, and prevents them from knowing that they are 
fools; who are delighted with innovation; who think places of power 
and profit due to their peculiar merits; who feel, that every change 
from good order and established society will be beneficial to them- 
selves; who have nothing to lose, and therefore expect to be gainers by 
every scramble; and who, of course, spend life in disturbing others, 
with the hope of gaining something for themselves. Under despotic 
governments they are awed into quiet; but in every free community 
they create, to a greater or less extent, continual turmoil; and have 
often overturned the peace, liberty, and happiness, of their fellow- 
citizens. 10 

This contemptuous view of the qualities of the pioneer was 
doubtless coupled with, if not caused by, a certain reluctance to 
part with a heretofore subservient lower class, but it was not re- 
flected in the Westerners' hard-learned estimate of the qualities 
necessary for a successful frontiersman. One of them wrote, 

If you value ease more than money or prosperity, don't come. , * . 
Hands are too few for the work, houses for the inhabitants, and days 
for the day's work to be done. . . . Next if you can't stand seeing your 
old New England ideas, ways of doing, and living, and in fact, all of 
the good old Yankee fashions knocked out of shape or altered, or 
thrown by as unsuited to the climate, don't be caught out here. But if 
you can bear grief with a smile, can put up with a scale of accommoda- 


dons ranging from the soft side of a plank before the fire ... down 
through the middling and inferior grades, if you are never at a loss for 
ways to do the most impracticable things without tools; if you can do 
all this and some more come on. ... It is a universal rale here to help 
one another, each one keeping an eye single to his own business. 11 

The frontiersman from foreign lands wrote with gusto about the 
rewards that awaited his efforts: 

This is the country for a man to enjoy himself . . . where you may see 
prairies 60 miles long and ten broad, not a stone or a stick in them, at 
two dollars an acre, that will produce from seventy to one hundred 
bushels of Indian corn per acre: too rich for wheat or any other kind 
of grain. ... I believe I saw more peaches and apples rotting on the 
ground, than would sink the British fleet. I was at many plantations in 
Ohio where they no more knew the number of their hogs than myself. 
. . . And they have such flocks of turkies, geese, ducks, and hams, as 
would surprise you. . . . The poorest family has a cow or two and some 
sheep: and in rail can gather as many apples and peaches as serves the 
year round. Good rye whiskey; apple and peach brandy, at forty cents 
per gallon, which I think equal to ram. . . . The poorest families adorn 
the table three times a day like a wedding dinner tea, coffee, beef, 
fowls, pies, eggs, pickles, good bread; and their favorite beverage is 
whiskey or peach brandy. Say, is it so in England? 12 

Such accounts of the plenty of the New World spread the . 
"America fever" abroad, where the people were already made 
restive by the rapid progress of the industrial revolution. 18 Consola- 
tion and inspiration both, the American dream was shared by the 
immigrant with his friends, relatives, and fellow countrymen at 
home. Gross and practical as some of its aspects were, the basis of 
that dream was the satisfaction of the age-old hunger for land and 
for the security that possession of fertile acres could bring. This 
sense of satisfaction has probably never been better expressed than 
by a French immigrant of the pre-Revolutionary period, Creve- 
coeur, the author of the Letters From an American Farmer y who 
wrote in almost lyric tones: 

Precious soil, I say to myself, by what singular custom of law is it 
that thou wast made to constitute the riches of the freeholder? What 
should we American farmers be without the distinct possession of that 
soil? It feeds, it clothes us, from it we draw in ever greater exuberancy, 
our best meat, our richest drink, the very honey of our bees comes 
from this privileged spot No wonder we should thus cherish its pos~ 


sessions, no wonder that so many Europeans who have never been able 
to say that such portion of land was theirs, cross the Atlantic to realize 
that happiness. 14 

A similar appreciation, coupled with realization of the political ad- 
vantages offered, may be found in the reasons for migration given 
by George Flower, an Englishman who helped to settle the Eng- 
lish Prairie of Illinois in 1817. 

A real liberty is found in the country, apart from all its political theo- 
ries. The practical liberty of America is found in its great space and 
small population. Good land, dog-cheap everywhere, and for nothing, 
if you will go for it, gives as much elbow room to every man as he 
chooses to take. Poor laborers, from every country in Europe, hear of 
this cheap land, are attracted to it, perhaps without any political opin- 
ions. They come, they toil, they prosper. This is the real liberty of 
America. 15 

From whatever background they came, no matter how diverse 
their motives or their equipment, the frontier shaped these settlers 
into its own pattern. And the type of American developed under 
frontier conditions set his mark upon the life of his nation so un- 
mistakably that the philosophy of the frontier came to color the 
activities of the entire United States. Equality of condition was a 
fact, not a theory, on the frontier; station, education, refinement, 
and even wealth mattered little. All must face the same perils and 
hardships, the same grueling labor in clearing the land, the same 
isolation, the same lack of the refinements of civilization. The weak- 
lings moved on, dropped back, or died of their failures, while the 
vigorous and self-reliant remained to become the leaders and the 
models of frontier achievement. The successful settler produced by 
the frontier was a self-made, self-confident man, like his neighbors 
but standing out among them because of his strength as an indi- 

The same conditions produced the paradox of the frontier a 
belief in equality so profound that the American almost confounded 
equality of opportunity with equality of ability, together with an 
intense, militant individualism that resented all restrictions and was 
restless, buoyant, self-assertive, and optimistic. The frontiersman 
had the utmost confidence in himself, his region, and his country, 
and he both craved and resented comparisons and criticisms* 1 * Ac- 


knowledging no debt to the past, he believed in progress and ac- 
cepted change as the natural order. Hopeful and idealistic, he yet 
could not forget the necessity for common sense and a realistic at- 
titude, for the conquest of the wilderness was an arduous task, 
exacting, monotonous, and burdensome. It was wasteful of human 
life, especially of women and children, and it was destructive of 
culture and neglectful of social relationships. 

The lawlessness of the frontier was doubtless partly legendary; 
certainly the bandits and renegades have had their day in Western 
literature. But with due allowance for exaggeration, there is still 
much justice in the emphasis upon the coarseness and violence of 
frontier life. All the travelers speak of the constant fighting, the 
gouging, ear-biting, and rough and tumble of Western personal 
dispute, and the vocabulary and anecdotes of the West vividly 
illustrate the crudeness of its life. The frontiersman was repelled by 
pretension, preferring his acquaintances to be no better than him- 
self. An educated Englishman, residing in Illinois in the iSio's, 
commented bitterly on this trait: 

A man to be popular in our new Western towns and with the coun- 
try people around, should be acquainted with everybody, shake hands 
with everybody, and wear an old coat, with at least one good hole in it. 
A little whiskey and a few squirts of tobacco juice are indispensable. 
From much of the former you may be excused if you treat liberally to 
others. If there is one fool bigger than another, defer to him, make 
much of him. If there is one fellow a little more greasy and dirty than 
another, be sure to hug hini. Do all this and you have done much 
toward being a popular man. At least you could scarcely have a jury- 
case carried against you. 17 

The frontier's faith in democracy and freedom soon took on an 
element of crusading zeal as Americans became convinced of the 
glorious future ahead of them and came to consider themselves en- 
trusted with the mission of portraying democracy to less favored 
nations. A magazine article in 1821, perhaps with 'some sense of 
humor, illustrated this confidence in the future with the statement: 

Other nations boast of what they are or have been, but the true citizen 
of die United States exalts his head to the skies in die contemplation of 
what the grandeur of his country is going to be. Others claim respect 
and honor because of the things done by a long line of ancestors; an 
American appeals to prophecy, and with Malthus in one hand and a 


map of the back country in the other he defies us to a comparison with 
America as she is to be, and chuckles his delight over the splendors the 
geometrical ratio is to shed over her story. This appeal to the future is 
his never-failing resource. If an English traveller complains of their 
inns and hints his dislike of sleeping four in a bed, he is denounced as a 
calumniator and then told to wait a hundred years and see the superi- 
ority of American inns to British. If Shakespeare, Milton, Newton are 
named, he is again told to wait until we have cleared our land, till we 
have idle time to attend to other things; wait until 1900, and then see 
how much nobler our poets and profounder our astronomers and 
longer our telescopes than any that decrepit old hemisphere of yours 
will produce. 18 

Francis Grund, writing in 1836 for an English public, made the 
same sort of comment in his statement that Americans loved their 
country not for what it then was, but for what it was to be not 
the land of their fathers, but the land their children were destined 
to inherit. 10 The Scotsman, Alexander Mackay, heard the same idea 
from a South Carolina farmer in response to a question about gene- 
alogy: "We don't vally those things in this country. It's what's 
above ground, not what's under, that we think on." 20 Whether or 
not the visiting Europeans approved of American democracy, and 
many did not, 21 they all were agreed that Americans themselves 
were content with their institutions and believed them better than 
those of Europe. 

This American solidarity was noted by the most famous foreign 
visitor of the period, Alexis de Tocqueville, in a letter from the 
United States in June i83i. 22 After stating that he envied Ameri- 
cans the comfort of their common opinions, he went on to enu- 
merate them: All the people believe that a republic is the best 
possible government and do not question that the people have a right 
to govern themselves. This belief is almost a faith, which is at basis 
a faith in the good sense of human beings and in the perfectibility 
of human institutions. In order that those institutions may con- 
stantly improve, education and enlightenment must become as uni- 
versal as suffrage. De Tocqueville found no evidence of ancient 
traditions and little effect of old customs or memories. Americans 
were a new people. He felt that the reason there was so great a 
respect for law was that the people made it themselves and could 
change it themselves. "It is really an incredible thing ... to see 


how this people keeps itself in order through the single conviction 
that its only safeguard against itself lies in itself." Somewhat re- 
luctantly, apparently, the young Frenchman admitted that on the 
whole the country presented "an admirable spectacle!" His great 
work published some years later, Democracy in America, reaffirmed 
this first impression, saying, 

In America, the principle of the sovereignty of the people is not either 
barren or concealed ... it is recognized by the customs and pro- 
claimed by the laws. ... If there be a country in the world where the 
doctrine of the sovereignty of the people can be fairly appreciated, where 
it can be studied in its application to the affairs of society, and where its 
dangers and its advantages may be foreseen, that country is assuredly 
America. 28 

The American's own view of his achievement in democracy was 
usually optimistic, sometimes complacent, but occasionally tem- 
pered by analysis and criticism. The novelist, James Fenimore 
Cooper, although professing belief in democracy, was a caustic 
critic of American life, attacking what he thought were its abuses 
and faults with a vehemence that won him many enemies. In his 
America and the Americans: Notions Picked up by a Travelling 
Bachelor, published in 1836, he endeavored to explain his country 
to the outside world and to express his own faith. But in The 
American Democrat, designed for his own countrymen, he warned 
of the danger of the rise of a "vulgar tyrant" and repeatedly as- 
serted that the leading principle of a republic must be that political 
power is a trust to be guarded with "ceaseless vigilance." Feeling 
that imperfect as popular government was, it was less dangerous 
than any other, Cooper came to the conclusion that men of intelli- 
gence and wealth, of education and station, must take their proper 
place in democratic society and aid in directing national policies. 


The self-conscious democracy of the West, in conjunction with 
the laboring classes of the seaboard states, exercised its newly ac- 
quired manhood suffrage in 1828 to bring about the Jacksonian 
Revolution and install "Old Hickory," the hero of the land- 
speculating, Indian-fighting West, in the White House. The West- 
erners did hot regard government as a difficult matter, nor did they 


consider special qualifications necessary for election to office. A 
man who could conquer the wilderness, bring his land under culti- 
vation, and win the respect of his fellows might be expected to suc- 
ceed in any office to which he was elected. Rotation in office, 
many elective offices, and frequent elections were a part of Western 
practice and were considered "salutary principles which disjoint 
the schemes of usurpation, and frustrate the systematic continu- 
ance of power." 24 

Interest in politics was widespread in the West, and election 
day or days, for many Western states kept the polls open for 
several days was a memorable occasion. Campaigning was rough 
and ready, speeches were forceful if not grammatical, voting was 
viva voce, and on election days candidates sat with the election 
clerks, thanked their supporters personally, and provided limitless 
quantities of liquor for the thirsty voters. Adolphus Frederick 
Hubbard, running for governor of Illinois against Ninian Edwards, 
gave to his audience the creed of the frontier candidate: 

Fellow citizens, I offer myself as a candidate before you, for the office 
of governor. I do not pretend to be a man of extraordinary talents, nor 
do I claim to be equal to Julius Caesar or Napoleon Bonaparte, nor yet 
to be as great a man as my opponent, Governor Edwards. Nevertheless, 
I think I can govern you pretty well. I do not think it will take an ex- 
traordinary smart man to govern you; for to tell the truth, Fellow 
citizens, I do not think you will be very hard to govern no how. 25 

With the election of Andrew Jackson the creed of the frontier 
won its victory in the arena of national affairs, and the Western 
interest in politics became national with the rise of the common 
man to political importance. While officeholders trembled and 
Washington official and social circles paled with anticipatory an- 
guish, 26 the President-elect prepared to act in accordance with a 
creed that summarizes well the essential faith of the young republic; 

I believe man can be elevated; man can become more and more en- 
dowed with divinity; and as he does he becomes more God-like in his 
character and capable of governing himself. Let us go on elevating our 
people, perfecting our institutions, until democracy shall reach such ft 
point or perfection that we can acclaim with truth that the voice of 
the people is the voice of God. 27 


Evangelical Religion 

The religious heritage of the young republic was as important in 
the development of nineteenth-century ideas as were the liberties 
won in the struggle with civil authorities. "When the common man 
has freed himself from political absolutism, he will become dissatis- 
fied with theological absolutism." 1 The cold and repressive doc- 
trines of Calvinism could not win the hearts of those who escaped 
from its control when its dictatorial governmental power came to 
an end. Moreover, the rationalism of John Locke and the French 
philosophes had the same dislocating effect on religious thinking as 
on political ideas. Calvin's doctrine of total depravity might have 
sufficed an older generation as an explanation of the presence of 
evil in human society, but man's reason found other causes, and 
his common sense rejected the idea that he and his neighbor were 
utterly depraved. The idea of progress and of the importance of 
the individual undermined the old doctrines of election and predes- 
tination. The consequent dissatisfaction with Genevan dogma, 
coupled with the aridity and dullness of New England cultural 
life, caused the people to turn with eagerness to evangelical Prot- 
estantism. Rebellion against Calvinism forced into the open field of 
battle a question that was fundamental both in theology and in po- 
litical and cultural life: Is the will of man completely free or is it 
wholly subject to the "stable" will of God? 


Puritanism thus assailed found in Jonathan Edwards a formi- 
dable defender. But the Calvinist doctrine that survived the struggle 
was so modified by the work of its defender that it has ever since 
been called Edwardian. Related by birth or marriage to many of 
the dominant families of the Puritan hierarchy and descended from 
four generations of men interested in religious questions, Edwards 
was conditioned in every way for the task he was to assume. Had 
he lived in New England in the greater intellectual freedom of the 
next century or in London or Paris in his own time, he might well 
have been one of the greatest philosophical thinkers of all ages. 


Gifted and scholarly, deeply emotional, and yet analytical, he was 
carried by his metaphysical and philosophical studies beyond the 
old controversies of nominalism and realism toward a mysticism 
and transcendentalism that was far from the Calvinistic creed. 

This keen interest in philosophy, however, did not lead Edwards 
away from theology and the defense of New England Puritanism, 
for his conversion was followed by entry into the ministry and ac- 
tive championship of the old faith. Yet he could never give up his 
vision of ma'n freely willing good instead of evil, of right triumphant 
over wrong, and of a new world order representing the victory 
of divine sovereignty. So the doctrine of depravity was softened 
into the idea that man left to himself is lost, but that conversion 
and regeneration are possible for every contrite soul. Predestination 
lost its horror as Edwardian theology drew close to the teaching 
of John Wesley that salvation is free to all who are converted. 

After some years as pastor in the quiet little town of Northamp- 
ton, Massachusetts, Edwards led his flock through the first revival 
of the century. Small as it was in comparison with the later "out- 
pourings of God's spirit/' this Edwardian revival had all their char- 
acteristics. During a sermon on the wrath of God the gallery of 
the church fell on the pews below, the occupants of which were 
saved only by the grace of God and the high backs of the pews. 
This shock was followed by an increase of interest in religion. The 
first conversion came in December 1734, when a young woman 
who had been the "greatest company-keeper" in town professed 
her penitence. She was followed by many young people, the con- 
tagion spread to their elders, and soon salvation became the sole 
topic of interest. Regular business was almost suspended, and the 
meetinghouse and parsonage became the center of the town* It was 
a happy time for Edwards, for the millennium seemed at hand. 

But suddenly the spell was broken when one of those "under 
conviction/' but to whom no joyful experience had been vouch- 
safed, committed suicide. A "dead time in religion" followed, and 
Edwards felt that God's favor had been withdrawn. His constant 
efforts to revive the former enthusiasm confirmed both himself and 
his envious clerical followers in the type of preaching and doctrine 
that might arouse fear and repentance. The imprecatory sermons 
that frightened his hearers furnished models for the generations that 


followed. It is hard even yet to forgive the author of "The Eter- 
nity of Hell Torments/' "The Evil of the Wicked Contemplated 
by the Righteous," and, most famous of all, "Sinners in the Hands 
of an Angry God." 

The soil so arduously cultivated by Edwards and other preach- 
ers using similar methods was ready to produce an abundant harvest 
for George Whitefield when he came from England a few years 
later. He was received as an angel of God, and his progress through 
the countryside was marked by greater and greater crowds and 
more and more emotionalism. Queues of people were waiting out- 
side the churches at three in the morning in order to obtain seats for 
the early service, men gave up all business to attend session after 
session, and many left their homes to follow him from town to 
town. He preached sermons of a kind America had never known. 
There was no emphasis upon doctrine or logic; theology was dis- 
carded for drama. Entirely without notes but with gestures, laugh- 
ter, songs, and tears he carried his audience with him into the realm 
of pure emotion. 

This Great Awakening led to schism and disruption in the old 
churches. Many ministers were shocked by the new methods of 
preaching and by the hysterical emotionalism engendered in the 
audiences of revivalist preachers. They called attention to the ex- 
cesses and to the dead time that seemed to follow the tumult of the 
revival. They asserted that whatever gains were made in church 
membership were counteracted by the backsliding of the new con- 
verts when the excitement subsided. Above all they disapproved 
the doctrinal changes implied in the teaching of salvation for all 
through the process of conversion. Even the Edwardian compro- 
mises were too much of an innovation for the orthodox Presbyterian 
and Congregational churchmen. The followers of Edwards came 
to be called New Lights, and the orthodox Genevans were called 
the Old Light clergy. Wasting their energies in attacks upon each 
other, the various factions of the old churches lost their hold on the 
allegiance of the people. 


The second half of the eighteenth century, the period of the 
American and French revolutions, saw the acceptance of rational- 


ism and a further lessening of the hold of Calvinistic theology. The 
Puritan conception of a just but angry Jehovah threatening with 
hell-fire and damnation a generation foreordained to salvation or 
destruction had no validity in the light of reason. Progress, perfecti- 
bility, individual worth, and the goodness of the natural man were 
substituted for the old ideas of abased man saved from eternal pun- 
ishment only by the interposition of an arbitrary Providence. 

The attacks of the philosophers upon the evils and the reaction- 
ary and arbitrary nature of the established churches led many to 
turn away from religion altogether and, accepting reason as their 
sole guide, to become agnostic or frankly atheistic. Others repudi- 
ated only organized and dogmatic religious forms, keeping their 
belief in the existence of a divine Creator to whom man owed al- 
legiance. And for many rationalistic thinkers agnosticism and deism 
merely paved the way to complete indiff erence toward religion and 
to concentration on man's inherent ability to perfect his own insti- 

Such ideas were cold satisfaction to others. Their revulsion from 
the evils of organized religion in their day was matched by their 
dislike for rationalistic philosophy. Their solution for the dilemma 
was a frank escape to supernaturalism and a return to the pietism 
and emotionalism of the early Reformation period and of many 
pre-Ref ormation heretical sects. 

The deists of the late colonial period and of the infant republic 
were usually political radicals as well They advocated independ- 
ence, fought in the Revolution, and ended their careers supporting 
the French Revolution and Jeffersonian democracy. Indeed, Jeffer- 
son himself was the arch-deist, and for that reason was all the more 
detested by the New England orthodox Federalist of the Fisher 
Ames sort. 

The stronghold of Federalism and Calvinism was not without its 
own rebels, however, for General Ethan Allen of Green Mountain 
fame was a doughty rationalist and agnostic. In 1785 appeared the 
first copies of his Reason the Only Oracle of Man, or a Compendi- 
ous System o-f Natural Religion . . . which the freethinkers called 
"Ethan Allen's Bible." The blunt old warrior stated in his preface 
that it was an impertinence for authors to apologize for their works, 
for "if a book cannot stand on its two hind legs, it should have been 


stifled in the birth." Desire for knowledge, the greatest attribute of 
man, said Allen, had led him to explore nature's laws, with the 
result that science now gave him explanations for many things that 
had previously seemed to be mysteries. God was the First Cause, 
the Creator of the universe, far too remote and impersonal a force 
to manifest interest in sect or individual Prayer and belief in mira- 
cles alike were, to Allen, impertinent, and he thought man would 
do well to seek only to make his life conform with the laws of na- 
ture, attempting neither to dictate to God nor to demand miracu- 
lous aberration of law. Personal or revealed religion was an impos- 
sibility for the rational man. 

Unitarianism was even more destructive of orthodoxy than 
was deism. In New England it cut across both Episcopal and 
Congregational-Presbyterian churches, taking over many whole con- 
gregations complete with clergy and church property. In a series 
of suits in Massachusetts courts it was established that when a ma- 
jority of any congregation became Unitarian the property of the 
church belonged to the new organization and not to the old, which 
had come to represent a minority of the congregation. In 1785 the 
Episcopalian King's Chapel in Boston turned Unitarian under its 
pastor, James Freeman, and when Freeman was refused ordination 
by the Episcopal church he received it from his own congregation 
acting as an independent religious organization. 

The classic expression of Unitarian doctrine was William Ellery 
Channing's sermon at the ordination of Jared Sparkes in Baltimore 
in 1819. From French revolutionary philosophy and New England 
idealism, from English Arian thought and Jeffersonian democracy, 
Channing brought together the three dominant ideas of the Ameri- 
can Unitarian faith: the loving kindness of God, the nobility of 
man, and the joy of a religious life. All Channing's lofty and perva- 
sive ethical teaching was compressed into his statement, "The ado- 
ration of goodness this is religion," The English traveler, Thomas 
Hamilton, summarized the usual British estimate of Unitarianism: 

Unitarianism is the democracy of religion. Its creed makes fewer de- 
mands on the faith or the imagination, than that of any other Christian 
sect. It appeals to known reason in every step of its progress, and while 
it narrows the compass of miracle, enlarges that or demonstration. Its 
followers have less bigotry than other religionists, because they have 


less enthusiasm. They refuse credence to the doctrine of one grand 
universal atonement, and appeal to none of those sudden and preter- 
natural impulses which have given assurance to the pious of other sects. 
A Unitarian will take nothing for granted but the absolute and plenary 
efficacy of his own reason in matters of religion. He is not a fanatic, 
but a dogmatist; one who will admit of no distinction between the in- 
comprehensible and the false. With such views of the Bostonians and 
their prevailing religion, I can not help believing that there exists a 
curious felicity of adaptation in both. . . . Jonathan chose his religion, 
as one does a hat, because it fitted him. 2 

Since Unitarians had the simplest of all creeds, fundamentally 
just an agreement on the tenets they did not subscribe to in other 
faiths, they had few doctrinal quarrels. Because they had little mis- 
sionary zeal and appealed to reason rather than to emotion, they 
gained relatively few adherents. Their importance and leadership, 
however, were out of all proportion to their numbers, for they 
were largely of the middle and upper classes, representing both 
wealth and learning. They were strong in the literary and cultural 
centers of New England. 

If Unitarianism was the faith of the well-to-do, well-educated 
dissenters from the doctrines of Calvin, the poorer New Eng- 
landers with liberal ideas adopted the Universalism brought to 
America by John Murray in 1770. There was little difference in 
theology between the two sects; the Universalists merely placed 
their emphasis upon the denial of hell and the doctrine of universal 
salvation. There were few Universalist churches in the Eastern 
cities, but they were numerous in the country districts. On the 
frontier their doctrine of free salvation made them the bugbear of 
the hell-fire-preaching Methodists, who, together with a group of 
Free-Will Baptists, invaded New England after 1790 and struggled 
against the orthodox, the Universalists, and the unchurched of the 
back country, using the circuit-rider and revivalist tactics that they 
were to find so effective in the West. 

On the New England frontier the itinerant Methodist or Baptist 
found a people used to high seasoning in their religious diet and 
able to appreciate the imprecations and threats of damnation that 
were designed to strike terror into the hearts of the unconverted. 
The revivalists had little use for the hair-splitting controversies of 
the New England churches and gave short shrift to the Edwardian 


attempt to reconcile free will and predestination, quoting the con- 
temptuous limerick of the circuit-riding Lorenzo Dow: 

You can and you can't 
You will and you won't 
You'll be damned if you do, 
You'll be damned if you don't. 

But among well-read Unitarians revivalistic tactics met with little 
success, as the following excerpt from the manuscript diary of a 
New Hampshire girl of seventeen will show: 

We went this evening to hear Lorenzo Dow, a famous Methodist 
preacher, his appearance was enough to frighten one and his preaching 
disgusted all the meeting house was crowded full. Think we should 
have been as wise if we haoi staid at home. 


For a time rationalism and secularism penetrated deep into the 
New England colleges that had served as a training ground for 
orthodox clergy. Yale College became a hotbed of radicalism at 
least in the eyes of conservative divines. Students called each other 
by the names of French radicals and met to discuss progress, per- 
fection, and the rights of man. In the words of the author of a his- 
tory of a neighboring college, "the dams and dykes seemed to be 
swept away, and irreligion, immorality, scepticism, and infidelity 
came in like a flood." 8 In 1799 only four or five Yale undergradu- 
ates professed religion, and in 1800 there was but one church mem- 
ber in the graduating class. "A young man who belonged to the 
church in that day was a phenomenon almost a miracle." 4 At 
Harvard the situation was much the same, except that Unitarianism 
had crept into the faculty. By the end of the century, with the ap- 
pointment of Henry Ware to the Hollis professorship of theology, 
Unitarianism was fairly entrenched in the old training school for 
Puritan divines. 

Both Old and New Light Calvinists were then awakened to the 
danger that threatened them in the very institutions that had been 
their strongholds. When Timothy Dwight, a grandson of Jonathan 
Edwards, was called to be president of Yale, he felt that the mantle 
of his grandfather had descended upon him and that it was both his 
duty and his opportunity to purify the college that had so fallen 
from grace. He preached the Edwardian doctrine of a "race dead 


in sin" and condemned pleasure, idleness, and devotion to the arts. 
The ethics he taught was a mass of prohibitions, but he taught with 
such f orcefulness that the result was a religious revival. The young 
men he guided into the ministry carried his teaching far afield and 
brought evangelical zeal and missionary spirit into the old churches 
of New England. There were fifteen periods of revival at Yale in 
the first forty years of the nineteenth century, and at the end of 
that time more than half the students were again affiliated with 
some church. Their deepened interest in religion must have been, 
at least in part, responsible for their interest in a wide variety of 
reform movements. In writing of the revival of 1802 a participant 

Wheresoever students were found in their rooms, in the chapel, in 
the hall, in the college-yard, in their walks about the city the reigning 
impression was, "surely God is in this place!" The salvation of the soul 
was the great subject of conversation, of absorbing interest. 5 

A conservative like Dwight, Jedidiah Morse endeavored first to 
combat Unitarianism in the Harvard faculty and then, failing in 
that, to establish a new theological school devoted to orthodox 
teaching. Andover Theological Seminary was the result. Andover 
carried forward the work of developing an evangelical spirit that 
could combat the wiles of heretical doctrine. The advice of Jedi- 
diah Morse was, "Let us guard against the insidious encroachments 
of innovation that evil and beguiling spirit which is now stalking 
to and fro in the earth, seeking whom it may devour." And by 
innovation Morse meant anything in the way of religious doctrine 
that had been evolved since Jonathan Edwards. 8 

So forceful were the sermons and the imprecations of the facul- 
ties of both Andover Academy and Andover Seminary that the hill 
on which the two schools stood was long called Brimstone Hill. 
Religion was the main theme in and out of classes. One day the 
headmaster of the academy dismissed classes with the remark, 
"There will now be a prayer meeting; those who wish to lie down 
in everlasting burning may go, the rest will stay," Only two 
hardy or hardened boys departed. An academy senior, after 
listening to a sermon on the text, "And ye shall see them sit down 
with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven and 
ye yourselves cast out," wrote in his diary that it was 


evident that some will be finally rejected from the Kingdom of Heaven 
and it is probable that it will be a part of their punishment to see those 
who were their former companions enjoying that blessed state from 
which they are excluded by their own folly and sin. The punishment 
and tortures of condemned spirits will be increasing to all eternity. 
How tremendous and overwhelming is the thought that the suffering 
of one soul will be greater than the united suffering of all in the uni- 
verse for millions of ages. 7 

Constant pressure upon the young student to choose a life of de- 
votion to religion was characteristic of most American colleges in 
the first half of the nineteenth century especially of those in New 
England and those founded by New Englanders. College revivals 
lacked much of the excitement of Methodist exhortation and the 
Western camp meeting, but they were very effective. There was a 
period of gradual preparation: Pious students conducted prayer 
meetings in each dormitory every evening; inquiry meetings were 
held by the college officials; often the president's house was opened 
for religious discussion; and the entire faculty, many of whom were 
preachers, cooperated in directing meetings. 

Out on the frontier the colleges founded by New Englanders 
carried on the same sort of work. Oberlih was long famous for its 
advocacy of evangelical religion and all manner of reform move- 
ments, and Knox College in Illinois, also founded by men from 
New England, produced a revival every winter as a part of the 
regular course. This was accompanied by "prayer meetings before 
breakfast, at noon, after school, and sermons served hot to us every 
night, everybody on hand, everybody expected to stand up and 
give testimony," for there were "those vital questions ... of tem- 
perance, abolitionism and conversion of lost souls, this last, first and 
foremost." 8 


Before long this increase of interest was reflected in movements 
designed to spread religious enterprise over the entire world. In 
1789 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church authorized 
a Home Missionary Society, and soon the churches of Connecticut 
and Massachusetts were organizing similar societies with the objec- 
tive of "propagating the gospel in the new settlements." The mis- 
sionaries sent by these societies joined with the itinerant Methodist 


preachers in bringing about the great revival in the West in the 
years following 1800. 

But America was too small a field for the ebullient religious en- 
thusiasm of the day. A Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions 
was founded in 1810 as a joint Presbyterian and Congregational 
enterprise, and two years later the first two American missionaries 
were sent to India. Judson and Rice became Baptists on the voyage 
to their new field and thus established Baptist foreign missionary 
work. The Methodists founded their first foreign mission society in 
1819 and kept pace with the Baptists in annual expenditures. By 
1850 the foreign missionary work of all denominations called for 
an expenditure of about $650,000 annually. 8 

When young Samuel John Mills, a Williams College student, 
was sent to the frontier to preach, he found huge areas with no 
churches, a few itinerant preachers, but little visible evidence of 
any religious influence. Appalled by the magnitude of the work 
and the distances to be traveled, Mills organized Bible societies and 
distributed hundreds of Bibles from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. 
At his urging the American Bible Society was organized in 1816. 
Cooperating with missionaries and local preachers throughout the 
West, the society formed over two hundred local groups, which 
by 1821 had distributed 140,000 Bibles. 

The work of the missionary and Bible societies was supple- 
mented by that of tract societies founded to publish religious 
works. The largest and most important was the American Tract 
Society founded in 1825; by 1850 it was expending more than 
$300,000 annually. 

There were other societies for all sorts of purposes. Some were 
denominational, some interdenominational; all seemed desirable to 
enough people so that support was provided for them. Societies 
were established for the aid of seamen, for the Christianization of 
Jews, and for the publication of anti-Catholic literature. Churches 
founded orphanages and carried on work for the poor and the de- 
fective. Humanitarianism and religion were closely allied, and it 
was a far cry from the "dead time in religion" of the eighteenth 
century to the social application of evangelical fervor in the mid- 



So much were the Western revivals and the religious awakening 
in the older sections of the country parts of the same movement 
that it is difficult to be sure whether the lines of influence extended 
from the East westward or whether the movement beginning in the 
West about 1800 was the spark that set off the Eastern quickening 
of interest. Perhaps it is better to think of the two as spontaneous 
movements occurring at nearly the same time, with the same fun- 
damental causes, each having great effect upon the other, and both 
combining to exert a tremendous influence upon the social history 
of the nation throughout the following century. 

The settlers who made their way across the mountains during 
and immediately after the Revolution cut themselves off from the 
churches of the Eastern states, and for a time the isolation of the 
families lost in the little forest clearings was one of the greatest 
hardships of Western life. But settlement rapidly increased, and the 
frontiersmen, eager to take advantage of every opportunity for 
community life, welcomed the missionary and flocked to revival 
meetings. The Presbyterians were in a good position to assume re- 
sponsibility for missionary work, for they were already entrenched 
in the Allegheny region in the Scotch-Irish settlements that 
stretched from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The Congregational 
church, too, might well have been expected to flourish wherever 
emigrants from New England settled extensively. Both the Congre- 
gational and the Presbyterian churches insisted upon an educated 
clergy and endeavored to bring culture to the Western communi- 
ties as rapidly as possible, and both considered missionary activity 
in the West; a patriotic as well as a religious duty. Their appeal to 
the frontiersman, however, was decidedly less than that of the 
Baptist and Methodist churches. 

The Baptist church, which had spread rapidly after the Great 
Awakening, went over the mountains with the pioneers, and its 
simplicity of doctrine and organization fitted into the frontier at- 
mosphere. The Baptist preachers were indigenous from the ranks 
of the frontier farmers themselves and were, at least at first, 
self-supporting, tilling their own soil five or six days a week. The 
Baptist insistence on immersion was a tangible issue that appealed to 


the frontier, and it figured large in frontier theological discussions, 
serving to distinguish the Baptists from sects very similar to them 
in other respects. 

The Methodist church was the most vigorous in Western enter- 
prise, and Methodist churches were soon the most numerous. Their 
organization was autocratic and centralized, and their first Ameri- 
can bishop, Francis Asbury, was an aggressive, resdess, incredibly 
active and vigorous person, well fitted to direct a flock of circuit- 
riding evangelists. Methodist doctrine, however, was exceedingly 
democratic, emphasizing the gospel of free will and free grace, the 
belief that men are equal before the Lord, and the tenet that each 
must obtain his own salvation through conversion. The ideal of 
Methodism was the "creedless religion of the heart." 

In the West the Methodist church made wide use of the circuit 
rider a practice that was copied by other churches. The circuits 
were long and the life arduous. Preferably unmarried, practically 
without a home, the circuit rider and his horse traversed the back 
country. Not awaiting the arrival of Methodist settlers, he organ- 
ized Methodist "classes" wherever he found settlers interested in 
any religious service. Each rider supervised twenty to thirty such 
local units, preaching almost every day in the week. The riders 
themselves came up from the ranks. Vigorous young lay preachers 
were encouraged to "exercise their gifts" and were given exhorting 
licenses by the presiding elders. Some of them became circuit riders 
and rendered long years of hard service. Western elders, too, and 
even bishops were for all practical purposes circuit riders, for they 
found it necessary to travel extensively to keep in touch with their 
far-flung districts. 

The few Catholics in the West were served by itinerant priests 
except in the French settlements. John Carroll of Maryland was 
made the first American Catholic bishop in 1789, but his communi- 
cants numbered only about thirty thousand at that time. The 
Catholic church looked to immigration from Catholic countries for 
recruits and was not of much significance in the West until the 
purchase of Louisiana added French Catholics and the following 
years saw the beginning of Irish and German immigration. The 
early Western travelers noted that there were almost no Episco- 
palians on the frontier. It was not until after 1815 that Bishop 


Chase established both churches and schools in the Ohio-Illinois 


When the godlessness of the backwoodsmen began to be a mat- 
ter of concern to the missionaries and the circuit riders, drastic 
measures were used to bring conviction of sin, repentance, and 
conversion. Upon men accustomed to the terrors of the wilder- 
ness loneliness, wild animals, Indian raids mild homilies had no 
effect, but vivid pictures of hell-fire and damnation contrasted with 
the happiness and peace of salvation, if used with sufficient dra- 
matic force, would bring the strong man to his knees. As Ralph 
Leslie Rusk says, the Protestant sects succeeded in the West in in- 
verse ratio to their intellectual attainments and in direct ratio to their 
emotional appeal. 10 

Frontier religion was an intensely individual experience. Its 
major tenets were these: Before conversion man's soul is shackled 
by sin; acceptance of religion means freedom from bondage; salva- 
tion must come through conversion consciously experienced at a 
definite time and place. This revivalistic type of Christianity was 
not created by the frontier, but there it found its natural habitat 
and ran riot in every extreme of emotion and in primitive abandon. 
A militant evangelical Protestantism preached by itinerant minis- 
ters often as illiterate as those who listened to them was the force 
that exhilarated, united, and at the same time tamed the frontier. 
Such a West was ripe for the excitement of the camp meeting and 
the efforts of the revivalist. So much alone, the frontiersman was 
peculiarly susceptible to crowd psychology; leading a violent life, 
he reacted violently to the vigorous preaching of the frontier evan- 
gelists. The revival was to him both a social event and an intense 
religious experience. 

The revival movement began soon after the Revolution in the 
back country of North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. In 1787 
a revival at the Jones' Hole church in Virginia was accompanied by 
the violence and physical manifestations later characteristic of the 
Western camp meetings. In the midst of the screaming, groaning, 
and dancing a part of the church wall collapsed. Impervious to the 
falling bricks and mortar, the frenzied people continued their ex- 
citement until exhausted, and later one man proudly proclaimed 


that just before he experienced conversion the Lord himself hit him 
with a brick. Thirty-five hundred converts were claimed for this 
and other revivals of the period. In Maryland the Methodists gained 
so many adherents that other sects were alarmed lest "at this rate 
the Methodists will get all the people." 

Coincident with the revival movement just starting in the New 
England churches, this Methodist and Baptist expansion in the South 
greatly increased the desire of all churches to carry religion and 
salvation to the "Godless West." On the frontier missionaries from 
the Northeast met the representatives of the Allegheny Presby- 
terian synods and the circuit-riding Methodist preachers. They 
were, for the most part, eager young men; afraid of the worldliness 
of the seaboard states and convinced of the wickedness and desper- 
ate need of the West, they wished to dedicate their lives to the 
preaching of salvation. 

Such a frontier preacher was James McGready, who came over 
the mountains from the Carolinas into southwest Kentucky in 1796. 
Logan County had long been known as "Rogue's Harbor," and its 
collection of horse thieves, murderers, highway robbers, counter- 
feiters, fugitive bond-servants, and runaway debtors were not easily 
won. Meetings were well attended, but no conversions were made. 
Then in the summer of 1799 McGready held a sacramental meeting 
at the Red River from which he hoped to secure better results. Two 
young preachers, brothers by the name of McGee, one a Methodist 
and one a Presbyterian, happened by and came to assist in the 
preaching. And there, much to the astonishment of congregation 
and preachers alike, began a revival that was to develop into one of 
the greatest religious excitements of all time. A letter from John 
McGee to a presiding elder of the Methodist church describes the 
scene soon to be typical of Western revivals: 

William felt such a power come over him that he quit his seat and sat 
down on the floor or the pulpit. I suppose not knowing what he dJd. A 
power which caused me to tremble was upon me. There was a solemn 
weeping all over the house. At length I rose up and exhorted them to 
let the Lord God Omnipotent reign in their hearts, and submit to Him, 
and their souls would live. Many broke silence. The woman [fie] in the 
east end of the house shouted tremendously. I left the pulpit and went 
through the audience shouting and exhorting with all possible ecstasy 
and energy, and the floor was soon covered with the slain. 11 


This time the excitement did not collapse after the meeting ended 
but spread like wildfire through Kentucky and Tennessee. The 
next summer so many people flocked to the Gasper River sacra- 
mental meeting that it was necessary to hold the services outdoors. 
This first camp meeting, for the services were held from Friday to 
Tuesday, was the scene of violent preaching and much shouting 
and weeping. Preaching, praying, and singing went on all through 
the day and night except for the hours from midnight to dawn. 
Little attention was paid to food and still less to rest. When Satur- 
day morning broke, the "slain" those struggling with conviction 
of sin were lying in anguish all about the camp, and by the end of 
the session the conversions were many. 

Ten such camp meetings were held in southwest Kentucky dur- 
ing that season and still more the next summer. One of them was 
attended by Barton Stone, the pastor of the Cane Ridge church in 
Bourbon County, who then went home and vividly described the 
camp-meeting revival he had witnessed. Catching his excitement, 
the members of the Cane Ridge church made arrangements for a 
camp meeting of their own. It was a union meeting of Presbyterians 
and Methodists and lasted from Friday to Wednesday. More than 
twenty thousand people attended, and the excitement was intense. 
The diary of the Reverend Mr. Lyle, who was present, described 
the crowd as rushing hysterically from preacher to preacher and 
swarming about those who were "fallen" in the agonies of their 
conviction of sin. 

Two young men, Peter Cartwright and James Finley, later the 
most famous of all the backwoods preachers, were present at the 
Cane Ridge meeting. Finley was converted on this occasion and 
wrote of it in his Autobiography in. vivid terms: 

The noise was like the roar of Niagara. The vast sea of human beings 
seemed to be agitated as if by a storm. I counted seven ministers all 
preaching at once, some on stumps, others in wagons^ and one . . . 
was standing on a tree trunk which had, in falling, lodged against an- 
other. Some of the people were singing, others praying, some crying 
for mercy in the most piteous accents, while others were shouting most 
vociferously. ... At one time I saw at least five hundred swept down 
in a moment, as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon 
them, and then immediately followed shrieks and shouts that rent the 
very heavens. 12 


After the Cane Ridge meeting the contagion spread rapidly. 
Through the summers of 1802 and 1803 *ht frontiersmen flocked 
to meetings held in dozens of forest clearings. By 1805 the fever 
had greatly diminished, and as the years went by it became inter- 
mittent, although there were annual camp meetings in many dis- 
tricts throughout the century. 

There is only occasional mention in contemporary accounts of 
camp meetings in the East one even of a meeting on Long 
Island but it is obvious that the evangelical, romantic type of relig- 
iosity was carried back from the frontier to the Eastern states. Yet 
methods and manifestations differed greatly in the East. Where 
churches were more numerous and population less scattered, re- 
vivals were usually held indoors in the form of protracted meetings 
conducted either by the resident ministers or by an imported evan- 
gelist. Western camp-meeting methods and measures were used to 
some extent bolder preaching, praying for individuals by name, 
insistence upon public evidence of conversion, and a pledge that 
the penitent would "serve the Lord." There were interdenomi- 
national meetings, mass conversions, and mass admissions to the 
church. But there was less "shouting" in the East and fewer physi- 
cal manifestations of religious excitement. 

These physical extremes of religious enthusiasm were peculiarly 
a camp-meeting phenomenon. A special terminology was quickly 
evolved. All such manifestations of excitement were called "exer- 
cises." The falling exercise has been mentioned, the shouting exercise 
is obvious, the jerking exercise came a little later but was per- 
haps the most prevalent. All observers give detailed descriptions 
of the "jerks." Peter Cartwright's Autobiography includes a full 
account of this. form of religious hysteria, concluding with the 
story of the unrepentant sinner who swore he would "drink the 
damned jerks to death." His arms jerked so violently that he dropped 
has whisky bottle and could not pick it up again. His curses filled 
the air until his head jerked with such force that he broke his neck. 
Cartwright piously comments, "I always looked upon the jerks as 
a* judgment sent from God." 18 

The barking exercise seems to have been common, too. As the 
name indicates, the afflicted often dropped on all fours and barked 
like dogs, In packs they would dash at a tree as they had seen dogs 


do when treeing an opossum. This was called "treeing the devil." 
The running, rolling, and laughing exercises need no description; 
the last became so prevalent that the "Holy Laugh" seems to have 
been almost a part of the services. Often the preachers encouraged 
dancing to relieve the tension, and the solemn prancing about re- 
minded observers of the services of the Shaker communities. Some 
accounts mention local variations that indicate the vivid imagina- 
tions of certain of those under conviction. At one camp meeting 
several men dropped on their knees in the aisles and played marbles 
in literal obedience to the admonition, "Except ye be converted, 
and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom 
of heaven." An Irish preacher named McNemar crawled on the 
ground saying, "I am the serpent that tempted Eve." A canny Scot, 
unaffected by the hysteria, thereupon stepped on his head with the 
quotation, "The seed of woman shall bruise the serpent's head." 14 
Along with this wide variety of physical phenomena came genuine 
trances and visions. 

The attitude of the preachers usually determined the quantity 
and the variety of the extravagances. The better educated preach- 
ers, especially the Presbyterians, opposed the most intense excite- 
ment. Where the preachers themselves were calm and controlled 
there were few excesses; a period of quiet prayer was a sure cure 
for an incipient epidemic of jerks. The Methodist and Baptist itin- 
erant preachers used the physical exercises to procure conversions. 
Hysterical preachers had a hypnotic effect upon the people, and 
their ranting was often the signal for mass hysteria. Those with a 
sense of humor, even though the humor may have been crude and 
coarse, held their audiences in control and relieved the intensity of 
emotion with gibes and apt stories. Forceful and competent evan- 
gelists like Finis Ewing and Peter Cartwright used much practical 
psychology in managing their huge audiences. They were utterly 
fearless, sturdy, honest, and self -controlled. 

Taking stock after the initial wave of revival had swept across 
the Middle West, the churches found that, even with some allow- 
ance for backsliding, they had gained many new members, the 
Methodists and Baptists having reaped the largest harvest. With 
the same tendency to emotionalism that had characterized the reviv- 
als, the frontiersman turned to a survey of religious doctrine. His 


militant individualism made him the ardent champion of whatever 
dogma he found interesting. The results were schism within the 
churches and a galaxy of new sects. The Methodists with their auto- 
cratic church government and relatively uncomplicated creed had 
the least difficulty, whereas the Baptists with their independent local 
church organization and the absence of real control in their associa- 
tions split into numerous groups. There were Hard- and Soft-Shell 
Baptists, United Baptists, Particular and General Baptists, Primitive 
and Free-Will Baptists, while the Disciples of Christ, the Christian 
church, and the CampbelUtes (followers of Thomas and Alexander 
Campbell) were offshoots of the Western Baptist church. Usually 
the differences were upon minor points immersion versus sprin- 
kling, infant versus adult baptism but the quarrels were hot. Even 
such minor issues as the use of the psalms in the church services led 
to disputes and schism. Many of the new sects were short-lived; 
some were permanent. 

The Presbyterians, too, had serious doctrinal difficulties in the 
West. One schism that occurred in the Cumberland region was 
occasioned by a dispute over the ordination of preachers who had 
not met the usual Presbyterian standard of training and over the 
whole matter of revivalistic methods. Those who advocated adopt- 
ing Methodist doctrines and methods seceded and formed the Cum- 
berland Presbyterian church, which grew rapidly in the West 
because of its circuit-riding and camp-meeting methods. Another 
Presbyterian schism came because of the promulgation of New 
Light doctrines in the West. A group of ministers who, in direct 
contravention of all Calvinist doctrine, placed their emphasis upon 
God's love for the whole world and the possibility of salvation for 
all sinners, were forced out of the church and formed a sect called 
simply the Christians, which later was merged with the Carnpbellite 

The close union between American political and religious faith 
is shown in the infinite tolerance accorded this apparently endless 
multiplication of sects. James Fenimore Cooper wrote that it was 
a mistake to think that America's liberality on religious subjects 
was due to the lack of an established church. "On the contrary," 
he said, "the fact that there is no establishment is owing . * to 
the sentiment of the people." 15 Even more explicitly, Emerson 


Davis, in a book published in 1851, said: "Men are free, and claim 
the right to think for themselves in religious as well as in political 

matters." 16 

During the excitement over the aff airs of war-torn Europe there 
was a temporary subsidence of religious enthusiasm, but with the 
return of peace in 1815 came a renewal of interest in camp meet- 
ings, and the resulting revivals had an effect upon the Eastern 
states, too. Western New York was visited by so many waves of 
religious emotion that it acquired the name of a "burnt" district 
where it was difficult to create any excitement. But it was in west- 
ern New York that Charles Grandison Finney in the mid-iSio's 
began the evangelical work that was to continue throughout his 
life. His published memoirs are one long chronicle of revival meet- 
ings conducted in most of the Eastern cities and throughout the 
upper Middle West a chronicle of the successes of the eloquent 
preacher whose hypnotic eye and terroristic imagery swept hun- 
dreds of converts into the fold in an upsurge of religious excitement 
that came to be known as the Great Revival. 

Although he was not a camp-meeting evangelist, Finney used 
many of the tactics of the Western itinerant preacher. He preached 
not only salvation but reform, and many who came under his influ- 
ence turned to the abolition and temperance societies and made of 
them crusades as vigorous as Finney's own. Indeed, the Great Re- 
vival was the fountain of energy from which came much of the 
impetus for the various reform movements. The whole-souled 
young reformers of this period disregarded the doctrinal disputes 
of earlier days and threw their energies into social reform. 

This religious fervor may itself have been in part responsible for 
the development in the same period of free-thought and atheistic 
agencies to voice the opinions of its opponents. Frances Wright 
and Robert Dale Owen led the way with their Free Enquirer, the 
German rationalistic groups in their Turnvereins followed, and in 
the 1840*8 there was even some attempt at national organization 
with scantily attended conventions in 1845 and 1847. This move- 
ment made little appeal except in the cities, where it was militant 
and where it allied itself with the socialism that was being adopted 
by some of the workingmen. It scarcely threatened the grip of the 
clergy, but they swept at once into an attack upon "infidelity," 


closing their ranks against the common enemy with public meet- 
ings and sermons and with attempts to stifle the atheist press. 17 


The frank and open adoption of emotionalism in religion and 
the sensational methods of revivalists did not go unnoticed by 
American and European contemporary commentators. Margaret 
Bayard Smith in describing a revival in Washington in 1822 stated 
that the preachers were 

introducing all the habits and hymns of the Methodists into our Pres- 
byterian churches . . . that they were going through the highways 
and hedges, to invite guests . . . into every house exhorting the people, 
particularly into all the taverns, grog-shops, and other resorts of dissi- 
pation and vice. Whether all these excessive efforts will produce a 
permanent reformation I know not; but there is something very repug- 
nant to my feelings in the public way in which they discuss the conver- 
sions and convictions of people and in which young ladies and children 
display their feelings and talk of their convictions and experiences. Dr. 
May calls the peculiar fever, the night fever, and he says almost all 
cases were produced by night meetings, crowded rooms, excited feel- 
ings, and exposure to night air. 18 

A somewhat less naive explanation of revivaiistic phenomena 
was made by Bishop Hopkins of Vermont, who stated that revival- 
ists secured conversions solely because of the terror induced by 
their exhortations. Disapproval of such tactics seems to have been 
prevalent among the Episcopalian clergy, one of whom Captain 
Marryat quoted as saying that revivals were 

those startling and astounding shocks which are constantly invented, 
artfully and habitually applied, under all the power of sympathy, and 
of a studied and enthusiastic elocution, by a large class of preachers 
among us. To startle and to shock is their great secret power. 1 * 

But the American clergy in general probably felt that the revival 
had come to stay and could be made a valuable part of the religious 
program of the Protestant churches. 

European travelers almost invariably were taken to camp meet- 
ings, especially in the West, and reacted to the experience in ac- 
cord with their own temperaments. Captain Marryat drew back in 
disgust froni the preacher who began his prayer with the words 
"Almighty aijd diabolical God," and deprecated all the excesses and 


extravagances of evangelical religion. Frances Trollope made many 
caustic comments about both revivals and preachers. Always sus- 
pecting the worst, she felt sure that such sessions must turn at 
times into sex orgies, although the only ocular evidence she had was 
the sight of a preacher whispering consolation into the ear of a 
sobbing and distraught young feminine convert. 

James Stuart was much impressed by the perfect decorum of the 
audience, the "faultless" sermons, and the magnificent singing. The 
revival he attended, however, was on Long Island; he was not ex- 
posed to the crudities of a genuine frontier camp meeting. It is 
more surprising to find the usually censorious Thomas Hamilton 
commending the camp meeting as an agency of civilization. 

In a free community [he wrote] the follies of the fanatic are harmless. 
The points on which he differs from those around him are rarely of a 
nature to produce injurious effects on his conduct as a citizen. But the 
man without religion acknowledges no restraint but human laws; and 
the dungeon and the gibbet are necessary to secure the rights and inter- 
ests of his fellow-citizens from violation. There can be no doubt, there- 
fore, that in a newly settled country the strong effect produced by 
these camp-meetings and revivals is on the whole beneficial. The re- 
straints of public opinion and penal legislation are little felt in the wil- 
derness; and, in such circumstances, the higher principle of action, 
communicated by religion, is a new and additional security to society. 20 

Two of the most detailed descriptions of camp-meeting revivals 
are those of Francis Lieber and Fredrika Bremer, written nearly 
twenty years apart and published in 1835 and 1853. Lieber was 
repelled by the emotionalism of the camp meeting he attended and 
was shocked by the "scenes of unrestrained excitement," but the 
Swedish traveler, Fredrika Bremer, was much impressed by the 
immense crowd of both white and colored people at the Georgia 
camp meeting she witnessed in the early 1850^. The grandeur of 
the night meeting in the forest, the eight fine altars, the campfires 
of resinous wood, the superb singing of the thousands of Negroes, 
the wails of the penitent, the thunder and lightning of an approach- 
ing storm all, she said, combined to make the night one never to 
be forgotten. 

The effects of the absence of state control and the consequent 
multiplicity of sects seemed to interest all foreign observers. Many 
of them mention the lack of religious intolerance in the United 


States and the easy "live and let live" philosophy apparent in the 
attitude of most men. Alexander Mackay, who traveled extensively 
in America in the 1840*8, was so impressed that he wrote: 

It is true that the insulting term "toleration" is but seldom heard in 
America in connexion with the religious system of the country. To say 
that one tolerates another's creed, implies some right to disallow it, a 
right that happens to be suspended or in abeyance for the time being. 
The only mode in which the American manifests any intolerance in 
reference to religion is that they will not tolerate that the independence 
of the individual should in any degree, be called in question in con- 
nexion with it. 21 

On the more fundamental question of the connection between 
the American democratic faith and the emotional perfectionistic 
religion that had swept over the United States the observers seemed 
in agreement. Again and again missionaries and patriots identified 
democratic with religious faith and asserted that neither could 
stand alone, that combined they furnished an invincible bulwark 
for American freedom. Timothy Flint, writer and missionary 
preacher of the first decade of the century, emphasized always that 
missionary enterprise in the West was for the good of the whole 
country; the West must not fall into Godless anarchy, for the rep- 
resentative institutions of the East would then also perish. As the 
Western missionary told De Tocqueville, "It is, therefore, our in- 
terest that the New States should be religious, in order that they 
may permit us to remain free." 

In an essay published in 1851, Mark Hopkins, president of Wil- 
liams College, expressed the same feeling that democracy must be 
linked with Christianity: 

Man himself is the highest product of this lower world, those institu- 
tions would seem to be the best which show, not the most imposing 
results of aggregated labor, but humanity itself, in its most general cul- 
tivation ana highest forms. This idea finds its origin and support in the 
value which Christianity places upon the individual, and, nmy carried 
out, must overthrow all systems of darkness and mere authority. In- 
dividual liberty and responsibility involve the right of private judg- 
ment; this involves the right to all the light necessary to form a correct 
judgment; and this again must involve the education of the people, and 
the overthrow of everything, civil and religious, which will not stand 
the ordeal of the most scrutinizing examination and of the freest dis- 
cussion. 22 


Regardless of their differences as to details, European and Ameri- 
can observers alike were insistent upon the prominence of the part 
played by religion in the Western World. They saw that the same 
intensity of faith vivified both the democracy and the religious ex- 
perience of many Americans, and they realized the potentialities of 
that combination. The mind and heart quickened by the "lively 
joy" of a vital religious experience were easily turned toward social 
reforms, and the spirit of inquiry and soul-searching that animated 
the revival had a dynamic social significance. The American faith 
in democratic institutions found its alter ego in the romantic evan- 
gelical spirit of American religious life. Together they gave to the 
Americans of the first half century of the republic their conviction 
that their institutions could be perfected and their national destiny 
be fulfilled. 


Cults and Utopias 

The only limits to the diversity of new faiths in the first half of the 
nineteenth century were the limits of men's own differences and of 
their aspirations and imaginations. Every new prophet or group of 
philosophers might expect to find a following among men of like 
ideas and ideals, and each new reform or doctrine found advocates 
among those stirred by the general ferment of the period. Indi- 
vidualism bred diversity and multiplicity both in religious sects and 
in reform movements. Every aspect of society and every phase of 
life were subject to the eager scrutiny of inquiring minds, and the 
optimistic liberalism of the day caused men to believe in the possi- 
bility of creating a new heaven and a new earth by the intensity of 
their efforts and the efficacy of their faith. 

In 1840 a convention in Boston of the Friends of Universal Re- 
form (usually referred to as the Charndon Street Convention) was 
attended by a motley crowd representing many shades of radical 
thinking. Emerson somewhat critically and yet humorously de- 
scribed them thus: 

If the assembly was disorderly, it was picturesque. Madmen, madwomen, 
men with beards, Dunkers, Muggletonians, Gome-outers, Groaners, 
Agrarians, Seventh-Day Baptists, Quakers, Abolitionists, Calvinists, 
Unitarians, and Philosophers all came successively to the top, and 
seized their moment, if not their hour, wherein to chide, or pray, or 
preach, or protest. 1 

The existence of such an assemblage and the elements of which it 
was composed are evidence of the complexity and diversity of the 
ebullient faith of the mid-nineteenth century. The idea of progress 
carried to the extreme of belief in the possibility of perfection was 
a heady wine, causing in many men an emotional intoxication that 
led to a confused view of the world about them. From this very con- 
fusion came numerous new religious cults and social experiments in 
communal living. 



Part of this movement and yet not of it, unleashed from the prac- 
tical but not running a "mad chase" unless it was touched with 
the divine madness of creative genius the Transcendentalism of 
New England had a vital share in the vivification of the American 
spirit in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Through 
their sublime mysticism the Transcendentalists made the direct 
contact between the individual soul and its Creator that was de- 
manded by every Western itinerant evangelist. For them perfection 
was an objective to be reached in God's infinite time by a long road 
marked by milestones of educational and social achievement, and 
their millennium was a vision of a day when man should at last bring 
to a glorious fruition the capacities with which he was endowed. 
Transcendentalism is difficult to define, and the Transcendentalists 
defy precise description, but the importance of both the movement 
and its members is unquestioned. Without a definite creed, Trans- 
cendentalism was at once a faith, a philosophy, a mystical religion, 
and an ethical way of life. A list of those connected with the move- 
ment is a roster of the creative minds of New England in the period 
of its belated but charming cultural flowering.* 


Just as New England Unitarianism stemmed from orthodox Cal- 
vinistic Congregationalism in the eighteenth century, so Transcen- 
dentalism was an offshoot of Unitarianism when it too had grown 
orthodox and conservative. The typical Unitarian was tolerant, 
kindly, with cultivated tastes and high moral standards; he accepted 
civic responsibility, was markedly philanthropic, and considered 
himself the champion of intellectual causes and of New England 
idealism. The liberalness of Unitarian dogma or rather the lack 
of dogma appealed to the "best people" of New England, but 

* In the history of American literature and philosophic thought the subject of 
Transcendentalism looms large. In an account of social history in the period of 
the Transcendentalists it is necessary to give only a brief summary of their ideas and 
their careers in order to bring out their share in the religious diversity of the day. 
The part of each great Transcendentalist in other fields is discussed in the subsequent 
accounts of the various cults, communities, and reforms. 



these same "best people" were conservative in everything except 
religion. Economically they were prosperous, and their main inter- 
ests lay in commerce and in property rights. Politically they were 
Federalists, and later Whigs, rather than Democrats. It was a com- 
mon expression in New England that "Unitarianism was the cult 
of the arrived," but no one could assert that it was either emotion- 
ally spiritual or deeply philosophical. It was negative even in its 
individualism and coldly reasoning in its acceptance of the privi- 
leged position of its select membership. 

Transcendentalism brought, for a decade, a spiritual vigor into 
the formalism of Unitarianism that made it a creative force. This 
dynamic element was, in the words of one of the Transcendental- 
ists, "an assertion of the inalienable integrity of man, of the im- 
manence of Divinity in instinct. . . . Amidst materialists, zealots 
and sceptics, the Transcendentalist believed in perpetual inspira- 
tion, the miraculous power of will, and a birthright to universal 
good." 1 O. B. Frpthingham, the historian of Transcendentalism 
and an heir to its tradition and ideals, spoke of it as a transference 
of supernatural attributes to the natural constitution of mankind. 
Through this transference man had the power to go beyond the 
realm of his senses and to perceive that which lay beyond all physi- 
cal phenomena. Transcendentalism meant, as one of its adherents 
whimsically said, "a little beyond." It was based on the fundamen- 
tal belief that the individual soul is identified with God and that 
instinct, insight, and intuition are the tests and methods of realizing 
that union. In his first series of essays Emerson endeavored to give 
the essence of the faith of the Transcendentalist: 

He believes in miracles, in the perpetual openness of the human mind 
to the new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration and 
ecstasy. He wishes that the spiritual principle should be suffered to 
demonstrate itself to the end, in all possible applications to the state of 
man, without the admission of anything unspiritual; that is anything 
positive, dogmatic, personal. 2 

The mysticism of Transcendentalism is obvious, and the theory of 
the oversoul with its mystical union with God may present difficul- 
ties to the comprehension of those not of the elect, but its idealism 
and its critical impatience with any achievement short of the ideal 
made it a force to be reckoned with. 


The Transcendentalist rejected the cold spirit and the compro- 
mises of the Unitarian, but, since he too was of the intellectual few, 
he retained the critical, rational methods. He accepted the maxims 
listed by William Henry Channing: * "Trust, dare and be; infinite 
good is ready for your asking; seek and find. All that your fellows 
claim or need is that you should become, in fact, your highest self; 
fulfill, then, your ideal." 8 These maxims placed the emphasis upon 
individualism and a dignified self-reliance. The mind and soul of 
man, self -purified and self-taught, might transcend reason and in- 
tuitively reach the spiritual absolutes through which man could find 
the reality behind the 'outer shell of life. Transcendentalism empha- 
sized man "as a solitary independent being, striving for sublime 
knowledge." 4 

Mystical and metaphysical though these abstractions may seem, 
the Transcendentalists were in many respects very practical men. 
Their philosophy was always tinged with Yankee coolness and 
shrewdness, and their feet were always solidly upon the ground 
even though they might use the stars as hitching posts for their 
thoughts. Their main concern was truth, unchangeable and eternal, 
and their constant objective was reality in religion, in govern- 
ment, in economics, and in the social order. Their courage was on 
a par with their vision, for they were willing to put their grasp of 
these realities to the test of making them a part of their daily life. 
They translated the romantic spirit into action and used its vitality 
in humanitarian reform and in the furtherance of human liberty. 

The origin of the Transcendental faith was complex. Its Ameri- 
can heritage was readily apparent: New England Calvinism freed 
from dogma by the negative principles of Unitarianism was its 
theological background; Yankee shrewdness, practical sense, and 
self-reliance, coupled with a large portion of traditional New Eng- 
land conscience, provided the psychological setting. The spark that 
set it off and the force that gave it motion were in the spirit of 
the age, a spirit made up of individualism and dynamic religious re- 
vivalism. From Europe the movement gathered strength from three 
sources: French revolutionary thought, the German philosophical 
idealism of Kant and his disciples, and English literary romanticism. 

* William Henry Channing was the nephew of the more famous Unitarian minis- 
ter, William Ellery Channing, who was the beloved "Dr. Channing." 


Transcendentalism owed much to the teachings of Plato, Pytha- 
goras, and Plotinus. Not for nothing had the intellectual class of 
New England been subjected to a classical education. Indeed, the 
philosophical transcendentalism from which the American group 
drew much of their inspiration has at times been called Neo- 
Platonisrn. They found food for thought, also, in the works of 
Oriental philosophers and in those of the medieval mystics. The 
language of mysticism is the same in every age and among all 
peoples, and the American movement was a genuine renaissance of 
mystical and transcendental thought. 

The authors most constantly read and discussed by the Concord 
philosophers included Rousseau, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Carlyle, 
Cousin, Constant, Kant, Richter, Schiller, Goethe, Swedenborg, 
and Pestalozzi, with a varying admixture of Greek and Oriental 
names. The movement was bound up with the growth of the sci- 
entific spirit, and regardless of the fact that its philosophy was 
based on the ideas that all religious absolutes are nonempiricai and 
that nonempiricai sources or principles of knowledge are transcen- 
dentalthat is, transcend experience and reason the American 
Transcendentalist was an eager experimenter. To him no institu- 
tion of his day was sacrosanct; slavery, education, property rights, 
the position of women, and the relations of labor and capital were 
all under fire. The search for truth and reality carried on in a period 
of social unrest was an incentive to radicalism of the first magni- 


Although the fire lighted by the Transcendentalism wanned and 
inspired many who never laid claim to the name or acknowledged 
the cult, the actual group of Transcendentalists was very srnalL In 
Boston in 1836 about a dozen New England writers, many of them 
Unitarian clergymen, began to meet in what soon was called the 
Transcendental Club. The group had little or no organization; its 
purpose was to discuss German philosophy and all the emotional 
ferment of the day. There was little cohesion in the group and no 
unanimity of opinion. Its members were, as Emerson said, "only 
agreed in having fallen upon Coleridge and Wordsworth, and 
Goethe, then on Carlyle, with pleasure and sympathy." 

The nucleus of the group was the select few who came together 


in the home of George Ripley on the night of September 19, 1836: 
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Henry Hedge, Bronson Alcott, 
James Freeman Clarke, and Convers Francis. It is impossible to 
make any complete list of those who joined the group in later 
meetings or to be sure which of those who were present occasion- 
ally should be considered members. Among these were Theodore 
Parker, Margaret Fuller, Orestes Brownson, William Henry Chan- 
ning, Elizabeth ?md Sophia Peabody, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Jones 
Very, C. P. Cranch, Cyrus Bartol, and Charles Follen. George Ban- 
croft, the historian, and Dr. Channing, to whom many of the mem- 
bers owed so much, seem to have been present once or twice. 
Topics for discussion were informally decided upon, and the mem- 
bers of the club came together with such guests as they cared to in- 
vite and held a symposium that lasted well into the night. 

After some years of these inf ormal meetings it was decided that 
the group should sponsor a literary review, and the Dial was the 
result. The editor of the magazine for the first years of its short 
existence was Margaret Fuller. She was followed by Emerson, who 
continued the publication for two years more. Its articles, poems, 
and reviews were drawn from almost all the members of the Trans- 
cendental Club and from JL select few of like interests. Never a 
financial success, the publication of the Dial was made possible only 
by the devotion of its editors and the cooperation of its contribu- 
tors, but in the four years of its existence (1840-44) it made its 
mark upon American literary history. As compared with other 
periodicals of its day its breadth of scope, vitality of expression, 
and intensity of emotional appeal are striking. From its pages ema- 
nate the religious iri^ulse, crusading zeal, ethical philosophy, and 
critical spirit of the Transcendentalist movement. 

From the "Orphic Sayings" of Bronson Alcott and the poetry of 
Jones Very to the "Thoughts on Theology" of Theodore Parker 
and the articles on Oriental philosophy by Thoreau, the Dial pub- 
lished the essence of the thinking of the group that dominated the 
New England literary world. Its translations of the works of Ger- 
man authors and its reviews of a wide range of English and Ameri- 
can writers popularized modern philosophic and literary thought 
and created new standards for American work. One of the greatest 
services of the Dial to American letters and to American Hf e was 


the opportunity it gladly offered to all young writers for the publi- 
cation of their poems, essays, and critical articles. Coming as it did 
when American democratic thought was ready for its most com- 
plete expression and when romanticism was combining with the 
scientific spirit to create a new world in which reform and prog- 
ress seemed inevitable, the new journal offered a medium for the ex- 
pression of ideas other than those of the Transcendentalists. 

Although the Dial was discontinued in 1844, ^ was followed by 
other reviews of a similar nature under different sponsorship but 
with much the same clientele and the same group of contributors. 
At no time in the twenty-year period during which Transcendental- 
ism was a vital factor in American life were its members without some 
means for the satisfaction of their passion for self-expression. 5 


That passion could be satisfied for some of the Transcendental- 
ists by the publication of their critical or creative literary work, but 
there were others who found their medium of expression in talk. 
All America in the mid-nineteenth century seemed willing to spend 
the evenings, and often many daytime hours as well, in listening to 
lectures on every variety of subject by almost any speaker who 
felt he had a message to impart. The lyceum flourished, rivaling 
the pulpit and the public library in popularity. The pros and cons 
of every project of reform were heard throughout the length and 
breadth of the land. No prophet failed of a hearing, and the advo- 
cates of all new movements, no matter how wild-eyed they might 
be, found eager audiences. 

The offering of the Transcendentalists for the cultivated ears of 
Boston society was of a slightly different and more refined form. 
The elite flocked to the "Conversations" of Bronson Alcott and of 
Margaret Fuller and found much to approve in the erudite and 
lofty discussions of the philosophical, historical, or literary subjects 
presented for their edification. These Conversations seem to have 
been of the nature of a carefully planned series of informal lectures 
on related subjects. Twenty-five to thirty people seemed the most 
responsive audience, and usually ten or twelve besides the leader 
or lecturer participated in the discussion. 
Alcott began his lecture-conversations in 1839 after the failure 


of his Temple School and continued them for many years, even 
going on long tours through the country holding these symposiums 
at every stop often on such abstract subjects as "Self -culture" or 
"Human Life." Talking was his forte. In the Conversations he was 
both effective and charming; his voice was pleasing and expressive; 
every sentence seemed to flow forth extemporaneously in a stream 
of beauty and order. Emerson, who like many writers was a hesi- 
tant and fumbling talker, was charmed with the splendor of Al- 
cott's talk and confided to his journal that Alcott 

delights in speculation, in nothing so much, and is very well endowed 
and weaponed for that work with a copious, accurate and elegant vo- 
cabulary. ... He speaks truth truly, for the expression is adequate. 
Yet he knows only this one language. He hardly needs an antagonist he 
needs only an intelligent ear. When he is greeted by loving and intelli- 
gent persons, his discourse soars to a wonderful height, so regular, so 
lucid, so playful, so new and disdainful of all boundaries of tradition 
and experience, that the hearers seem no longer to have bodies of ma- 
terial gravity but almost they can mount into the air at pleasure, or leap 
at one bound out of this poor solar system. 6 

For nearly four decades Alcott attracted his audiences of thirty to 
sixty persons for evenings of soliloquy and discussions. Most at 
home in Boston, he yet found congenial souls when the talks were 
given elsewhere. O. B. Frothingham, who often attended the Bos- 
ton Conversations, wrote of them with warm approval. The topics, 
he said, were of general interest, and if the group was 

awake and sympathetic ... the season was delightful. The unfailing 
serenity of the leader, his wealth of mental resource, his hospitality of 
thought, his wit, his extraordinary felicity of language, his delicacy 
of touch, ready appreciation of different views, and singular grace in 
turning opinions toward the light, made it clear to all present that to 
this especial calling he was chosen. 7 

His adverse critics, however, were many. Fredrika Bremer heard 
him twice and commented dryly, "Alcott drank water, and we 
drank fog." 8 The contemptuous attitude of some of his American 
contemporaries is well expressed in a bit of verse by J. T. Trow- 
bridge, which, strangely enough, seems to condemn its author more 
than the mystical genius of whom it was written: 

Do you care to meet Alcott? His mind is a mirror 
Reflecting the unspoken thought of his hearer. 


To the great, he is great; to the fool he's a fool 
In the world's dreary desert a crystalline pool 
Where a lion looks in and a lion appears, 
But an ass will see only his own ass s ears. 9 


The Conversations of Margaret Fuller, similar to those of Alcott, 
were first held in Boston in 1839 and were continued through five 
winters, until she went to New York at the invitation of Horace 
Greeley to write literary criticism for the Tribune. She was one of 
the most striking members of the Transcendentalist group, although 
Frothingham states that, strictly speaking, she cannot be classed as 
a Transcendentalist. She was, he says, enthusiastic and magnetic 
rather than philosophical and far more poetic than systematic. Her 
life was dramatic and in many ways tragic. Her indomitable spirit, 
sweeping interests, and ceaseless activity were characteristic of the 
age and the group with which she was identified, and her capacity 
for friendship is evidenced in every contemporary account of her 
life and work. 

An intelligent and precocious child, she early became the con- 
stant care of a doctrinaire father. She was taught Latin and English 
grammar simultaneously and began to read Latin at the mature age 
of six. She was taught never to speak until she was sure her meaning 
would be crystal clear and never to make a statement for which she 
could not give a meaning. Her father believed the old Roman writ- 
ers furnished the best evidence of the virtues he wished to incul- 
cate, and Margaret was given Virgil and Horace to read before she 
was ten. The days were not long enough for the tasks set for the 
brilliant child, so she was kept up late and denied playtime and 
the companionship of children. When she was at last sent away to 
school she was in every way a misfit too advanced mentally, badly 
adjusted socially. Sensitive and neurotic, she derived her greatest 
satisfaction from being startlingly different from her schoolmates 
and found little happiness until she was mature enough to form 
friendships in the Boston and Concord group of literary philoso- 

Her life in Boston was full and satisfying. She taught in Bronson 
Alcott's Temple School, was editor of the Dial for two years, and 
was a member of the Transcendental Club and the friend of its 


greatest figures. Later, in New York, she was interested in a wide 
variety of practical reforms and, through the publication of her 
Woman in the Nineteenth Century, became known as one of the 
leading feminists of the period. In 1846 she went abroad, where she 
was secretly married to the Marquis Ossoli, an Italian deeply in- 
volved in the Revolution of 1848. Passionately devoted to Italy and 
its struggle for liberalism and unity, Margaret threw herself into 
the cause and suffered acutely in its failure. In 1850 she returned to 
America with her husband and infant son, only to have her life end 
with theirs in a shipwreck off the Long Island coast. 

The intellectual arrogance of her childhood never completely 
left her. It was with sincerity and conviction that she said, "I now 
know all the people worth knowing in America, and I find no in- 
tellect comparable to my own." Her friend and biographer was no 
more than just in speaking of her "mountainous me." 10 Much of 
her inspiration came from the great thinkers and writers of history, 
but to Emerson she always gladly acknowledged a debt of grati- 
tude. "His influence," she wrote, "has been more beneficial to me 
than that of any American, and from him I first learned what is 
meant by an inward life. Many other springs have since fed the 
stream of living waters, but he first opened the fountain." X1 

Her peculiar power of intellect and flashing brilliance of mind 
were recognized by the Transcendentalists, who paid her the trib- 
ute of believing that she might under more favorable circumstances 
have become one of the greatest critics and poets of modern times. 
This frustration of genius, which she as well as they recognized, 
W. H. Channing considered one of the tragedies of Miss Fuller's life. 

But [he went on] the tragedy of Margaret's history was deeper yet. 
Behind the poet was the woman the fond and relying, the heroic and 
disinterested woman. The very glow of her poetic enthusiasm was but 
an outflush of trustful affection; the very restlessness of her intellect 
was the confession that her heart had found no home. 12 

Horace Greeley used this quotation in the chapter on Margaret 
Fuller in his Recollections of a Busy Life, concluding in agreement, 
"If 7 had attempted to say this, I should have somehow blundered 
out that, noble and great as she was, a good husband and two or 
three bouncing babies would have emancipated her from a deal of 
cant and nonsense." 18 


No achievement of the mind could completely satisfy the woman, 
and her belated romance, wifehood, and motherhood came to her 
only as a stormy prelude to the storm in which her life was lost. 
Her great aim in life was self -culture, and her chief contribution to 
the Transcendentalist movement and to the cultural life of her time 
was her keen appreciation of the possibilities of the development of 
the mind. Her genius was recognized, and her interest in the prob- 
lems of the day and in the advancement of women stimulated the 
interest of others. Her influence was out of proportion to her ac- 
tual contributions to either American thought or American letters. 


Margaret Fuller was only one among many young American 
writers of the mid-nineteenth century who acknowledged their 
debts of gratitude to Emerson. The secret of his influence must be 
sought in his philosophy, his critical faculty, and his personality. 
The strength of that influence cannot be estimated with any degree 
of accuracy, but it is probable that the danger would be of under- 
rather than overstatement. For countless people the liberating ef- 
fect of the Transcendentalist movement came through the medium 
of Emerson's words. From early maturity he devoted his life to the 
expression of a noble and idealistic philosophy and to the critical 
measurement of the ideas and institutions of the world about him 
by the standards of such a creed. In an entry in his journal shortly 
before 1840 Emerson expressed the purpose which was to guide 
him throughout his life: 

I am to fire with what skill I can the artillery of sympathy and emotion. I 
am to indicate constantly, though all unworthy, the Ideal and Holy 
Life, the life within life, die Forgotten Good, the Unknown Cause in 
which we sprawl and sin. I am to try the magic of sincerity, that lux- 
ury permitted only to kings and poets. I am to celebrate the spiritual 
powers in their infinite contrast to the mechanical powers and the me- 
chanical philosophy of this time. 14 

This challenging assertion of purpose came at a time when Ameri- 
cans were beginning to recognize that "mechanical powers" were 
destined to master their national life unless the "mechanical philoso- 
phy" could be countered by an increasing devotion to spiritual 


A Unitarian minister and the son of a minister, Emerson quietly 
gave up his pastorate in his early thirties to devote himself to a life 
of study and to the development of his own philosophy of life. His 
contacts with, and his influence upon, his contemporaries came 
through his occasional addresses, his essays, translations, poems, and 
critical reviews. Accepting the Transcendentalisms faith that there 
is a divinity in man, he sought to find the place of man in nature 
and turned to the woods and fields of New England for his answer. 
He was a bookish man with little previous experience in the world 
out of doors, and this first acquaintance with the realities of nature 
resulted in 1836 in an essay, "Nature," that was saturated with 
idealism, optimism, and joy in life itself. In the next few years a 
succession of addresses placed before the world the quintessence of 
his developing philosophy. In "The American Scholar," first given 
as an address before a meeting of the Phi Beta Kappa Society in 
August 1837, Emerson sounded a note of independence for Ameri- 
can letters, bidding the American scholar to cast off his subservi- 
ency to European tradition. He stated in the broadest terms the 
office and duties of the scholar and issued a challenge to all creative 
genius in his statement, "If a single man plant himself indomitably 
on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to 
him." Again and again, in the "Divinity School Address," in ad- 
dresses on "Man the Reformer" and on "Literary Ethics," and in 
the first series of essays, which contained the famous "Self Reli- 
ance" and "Compensation" treatises, he reiterated the same ideas: 
that man's powers are sufficient for his needs, that the universe is a 
divine whole man, his fellows, nature, God and that this divin- 
ity must rule. Such a world is full of opportunities, and Emerson 
called upon all creative minds to grasp them and to change the in- 
stitutions under which men lived to fit this revolutionary, idealistic 
conception. In short, the essence of his teaching was individualism, 
the primacy of the mind, and the connection of the individual in- 
telligence with the divine. 

Emerson thus became the spokesman of Transcendentalism and 
the prophet of the new age. Frothingham entitled the chapter de- 
voted to Emerson "The Seer," and Van Wyck Brooks calls him 
the "New England Prophet," 1B but he was a prophet whose honor 
was secure in his own time and his own country because he was, as 


his German admirer, Herman Grimm, stated, "a perfect swimmer 
on the ocean of modern existence." The secret of his power was 
the fact that he was expressing in its highest idealistic form the 
spirit of his own age. The doctrine he preached was that of Luther, 
Rousseau, and Jefferson revivalistic, romantic, and democratic. 

The government of the republic was much in Emerson's mind, 
nor did he overlook the economic aspects of modern life. Both his 
belief in individualism and his feeling that the state must be freed 
from the control of those who would use it to further their own 
economic interests led him to the Jeff ersonian democratic philoso- 
phy of a state whose functions were limited, and he feared the tyr- 
anny of a strong government with power to coerce the individual. 
Again and again he recorded in his journal his belief in democracy, 
a democracy that "has its root in the sacred truth that every man 
hath in him the divine Reason" and is based upon a "spirit of love 
for the general good." 

With an acute sensitiveness to all that violated the rights of the 
individual, Emerson deplored the materialism of the day, condemned 
Negro slavery and every other variety of bondage, and sympathized 
with the reformers who worked to benefit society, even though his 
serenity and his individualism kept him from taking an active part 
in reform movements. Although he comprehended the dangers in- 
herent in the increasing power of industrial capitalism, his agrarian 
and physiocratic views made it impossible for him to advocate so- 
cialism. Indeed, as his ideas slowly developed, he more nearly ap- 
proached philosophical anarchism, which was little understood by 
most of his disciples. In his "Essay on Politics" appears this state- 

... the less government we have the better the fewer laws, and the 
less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal government 
is ... the appearance of the wise man; of whom the existing govern- 
ment is, it must be owned, but a shabby imitation. ... To educate the 
wise man the State exists, and with the appearance of the wise man 
the State expires. The appearance of character makes the state unneces- 
sary. The wise man is the State. 16 

And with that final conclusion he swung around to a view some- 
what like that of Carlyle and won the approval of Nietzsche. To 
the American of his own day, Emerson was the realization of his 


own highest ideal the completely free and untrammeled individ- 
ual, serene, civilized, and benevolent. 


The sole purpose of Thoreau's life was to find a basis for ideal 
living. Where a larger group of Transcendentalists founded Brook 
Farm, and Bronson Alcott with his family and a few friends built a 
communistic home at Fruitlands, Thoreau retired for two years to 
Walden Pond in an intensely individualistic experiment in living all 
his own. Little understood in his own day, Thoreau has increased 
in stature as the years have passed until the twentieth century ac- 
claims him as possibly the greatest of the Transcendentalists. To his 
friends Emerson, Hawthorne, Ellery Channing, Alcott he was 
a genius, rugged, often acid or thorny, always stimulating. Outside 
of that small circle he was little known. He has been called the 
"Poet-Naturalist," but he was not solely poet or naturalist; he was 
one of the most profound scholars of his day. Greek was his second 
language, and Oriental philosophers and religious leaders were 
known to him through French and German versions. His contribu- 
tions to the Dial were largely his translations into English of Far 
Eastern writings. 

His great book Walden has been acclaimed by a later generation 
as a portrayal of a philosophy and way of life that repudiates the 
whole middle class philosophy of exploitation of both nature and 
man upon which the world about him was based. Stating calmly at 
the beginning of Walden, "I have travelled a good deal in Concord; 
and everywhere . . . the inhabitants have appeared to me to be 
doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways," Thoreau went on 
to criticize the wealth-getting, competitive, exploiting life of his 

I see young men . . . whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, 
houses, barns, cattle and farming tools. . . . Who made them serfs of 
the soil? Why should, they eat their sixty acres, when man is con- 
demned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should they begin digging 
their graves as soon as they are born? . . . Men labor under a mistake. 
The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for compost. 
. . . Most men . . . through mere ignorance or mistake, are so occu- 
pied with the factitious cares and superfluously hard labors of life, that 
its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them ... the laboring man has 


not leisure for a true integrity day by day. . . . He has no time for 
anything but a machine. 17 

Trade, he wrote, curses everything it touches, but apart from the 
world of trade it could be a joyous experience to earn one's bread. 
Life could be a glorious and satisfying thing. 

I have learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances 
confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the 
life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in 
common hours. ... It is a ridiculous demand which England and 
America make, that you shall speak so that they can understand you. 
... I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extra-vagant enough, 
may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limits of my daily ex- 
perience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I am convinced. 
. . . Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise 
that as common sense? The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, 
which they express by snoring. . . . Why should we be in such des- 
perate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does 
not keep pace with his companion, perhaps it is because he hears a dif- 
ferent drummer. , . . The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to 
us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day 
to dawn. The sun is but a morning star. 18 

Emerging from the serenity of Walden to a Concord village 
disturbed by the Mexican War, Thoreau refused his support to a 
state that tolerated such abuses as slavery and warfare. His passive 
resistance was expressed by refusal to pay his taxes. The result was 
twofold: a short stay in jail for the philosopher and, more impor- 
tant for posterity, an essay called "Civil Disobedience/' a credo of 
philosophical anarchism that is believed to have been an inspiration 
to Mahatma Gandhi. 

I believe . . . that government is best which governs not at all; and 
when men are ready for it, that will be the kind of government which 
they will have. ... A government in which the majority rules in all 
cases cannot be based on justice. . . . There is but little virtue in the 
action of masses of men. ... If the law is of such a nature that it re- 
quires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the 
law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. 19 

Slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law aroused him to break forth 
once more, with a stern essay, "Slavery in Massachusetts/* The exe- 
cution of John Brown caused his bitter "Last Days of John Brown" 
and the "Plea for Captain John Brown," in which he rejoiced that 


he lived in the age of John Brown and condemned in scathing 
words the laws that made him a felon: "... in cases of the highest 
importance, it is of no consequence whether a man breaks a human 
law or not. ... A counterfeiting law-factory, standing half in a 
slave land and half in a free! What kind of laws for free men can 
you expect from that!" 20 Thoreau was to the day of his death the 
romantic rebel, the complete disciple of laissez faire. He carried to 
its logical conclusion the philosophy inherent in the liberalism of 
the early nineteenth century. 


No man could present a greater contrast to Thoreau than did 
Theodore Parker, and the fact that two men so different in all but a 
few characteristics should be thus placed together is evidence both 
of the diversity within that group and of the fundamental vital- 
ity of those few common factors. Parker was first and foremost a 
preacher, one of the greatest of a long line of New England preach- 
ers. Parrington says that his nature was two-sided, a perfect and 
harmonious blending of the practical, logical, and lucid on the one 
hand, and of emotional, mystical idealistic, and religious character- 
istics on the other. Of all the Transcendentalists he best understood 
the social and political trends of the day. He was a born fighter: 
brave, energetic, uncompromising, and yet intensely practical. He 
was no fanatic, and for all his philosophical mysticism, he neither 
underestimated the adversary nor gave too much weight to the 
force of moral suasion alone. The antislavery movement was the re- 
form closest to his heart, and in a Boston that frowned upon such 
agitation, he repudiated the Fugitive Slave Law and worked for the 
cause of abolition. 

Parker's learning was prodigious. At the age of eight he had 
read Homer and Plutarch. He began his study of metaphysics at 
twelve and read enormously throughout his schooldays history, 
politics, and philosophy. His linguistic ability was remarkable. 
Thomas Wentworth Higginson says he was the master of nineteen or 
twenty languages; it is certain that he knew Greek and Latin thor- 
oughly as well as French, Spanish, German, and Italian, and that he 
read Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Coptic. His memory was aston- 
ishingly plastic. As a schoolboy he could memorize a poem of five 


hundred to a thousand words with one reading. In his later years 
he had a library of thirteen thousand volumes, which skeptics main- 
tained he could not have read. His friend, James Freeman Clarke, 
approached him one day with the question, "Do you read all of 
your books, and do you know what is in them?" "I read them all," 
was Parker's reply, "and can give you a table of contents for 
each." 21 This erudition was not stored lumber, for his energy was 
not that of a recluse. He read and studied in order to enrich his 
preaching and to replenish constantly his philosophical and reli- 
gious resources by drawing upon all that men had accomplished in 
the past. Frothingham says: 

All that Parker had went into his preaching, the wealth of his library, 
the treasures of his heart, the sweetness of his closet meditation, the 
solemnity of his lonely musings. But it was not this that gave him his 
great power as a preacher. That, we are persuaded, was due in chief 
part to the earnestness of his faith in the transcendental philosophy. 22 

Parker's religious belief can be summarized briefly. He was the 
heir to New England Calvinism and Unitarianism with the addition 
of transcendental optimism and perfectionism. He believed in the 
infinite perfection of God, the adequacy of man, and the sufficiency 
of natural religion. He identified God with nature and with man 
and believed that God was infinite and perfect love. His wide read- 
ing as well as his belief in the perfectibility of man led him to 
accept, even before their Darwinian exposition, the theories of evo- 
lution and the progressive development of the human animal as 
well as other forms of life. 

Parker was surprisingly modern in his view of the economic 
basis of politics and sharply critical of the emphasis upon money- 
getting in both the political parties of the day. In a period when 
feminism was new and, in the minds of most Bostonians, somewhat 
disreputable, the earliest women preachers were welcomed in his 
pulpit, and he was willing to concede to women every equality in 
law and society. In dealing with the "woman question," as it was 
called, he was, however, always somewhat handicapped by the fact 
that he idealized women. His own marriage was a happy one, and 
he had a thoroughly wholesome attitude toward the question of sex. 
Marriage and divorce laws, suffrage and property laws should, he 
thought, be changed to give women the place due them. In many 


other respects Parker's form of Christianity was a socialized re- 
ligion. Prison reform, prevention of vice and crime, labor problems, 
the peace movement, education reforms, temperance, abolition 
all such social problems were parts of a common whole, and a real 
reform could be accomplished only by a study of society as a 
whole. Every phase of life was of interest to Parker, and his learn- 
ing and wisdom were respected by the leaders of all the reform 

In 1860, after years of incredible energy and exertion, Parker's 
life came to an end burned out at fifty. In his last letter to his 
church he was able to express his tremendous joy in life and his op- 
timism for the future: 

Several times in my life I have met with what seemed worse than death 
. . . yet my griefs all turned into blessings; the joyous seed I planted 
came up discipline and I wished to tear it from the ground, but it flow- 
ered fair and bore a sweeter, sounder fruit than I expected from what I 
set in earth. As I look over my life I find no disappointment I could 
afford to lose; the cloudy morning has turned out the fairer day; the 
wounds of my enemies have done me good. So wondrous is this human 
life, not ruled by fate but Providence, which is Wisdom married unto 
Love, each infinite. . . . This progressive development does not end 
with us; we have seen only the beginning, the future triumphs of the 
race must be vastly greater than all accomplished yet. In the primal in- 
stincts and automatic desires of man, I have found a prophecy that 
what he wants is possible, and shall one day be actual. It is a glorious 
future on earth which I have set before your eyes and hopes. What 
good is not with us is before, to be attained by toil and thought and 
religious life. 28 


Parker's life, his preaching, and his philosophy were entirely har- 
' monized and unified. Orestes Brownson, on the other hand, found 
in Transcendentalism only a way-station on a long and often dis- 
appointing journey toward religious peace. From earliest childhood, 
religion was important to him, and he seems to have been, as Froth- 
ingham says, completely at the mercy of every novelty in specula- 
tion. He was a poor boy, reared in upstate Vermont, badly educated, 
but intensely and restlessly intellectual. When he was nineteen years 
of age, his constant alarm over his soul's salvation sent him into the 
Presbyterian church. The doctrines of total depravity and predes- 
tination were too horrible for acceptance, however, and after two 


years he turned from Presbyterianism to its antithesis, Universalism. 
In 1826, when he was twenty-three, he became a preacher and, 
shortly, the editor of a church paper. But theological doubts still 
perplexed him, and he filled the journal with his own speculations, 
to the distress of its readers. 

In 1829 he heard an address by Frances Wright, the prominent 
English socialist and feminist, and turned his attention to the ideas 
of Robert Owen and the Utopian socialists. Cutting himself loose 
from the Universalist church, he spent some years in developing 
radical political and social theories and in attempting to organize a 
workingmen's party. In this period he seems to have rejected all 
religion and gone over to agnosticism, but by 1831 his own restless 
searching for truth drove him back, and he became a follower of Dr. 
Charming. From Unitarianism it was but a step to Transcendental- 
ism, and from a working class movement it was easy to go over into 
the social reforms of the day. 

Brownson had too much respect for education to be a Jacksonian 
Democrat and too much of reforming individualism to subscribe to 
the tenets of the Whigs. The panic of 1837 crushed his hopes 
for labor organization and for the education of laborers in special 
schools, and he came to the conclusion that the whole social order 
was at fault, that "the issue is now between the privileged and the 
under-privileged." Like most of the Transcendentalists, he was dis- 
tressed by the evidences of increasing government activity and as 
the years went by went over more and more to the agrarian politi- 
cal philosophy of Calhoun, especially where Calhoun advocated the 
protection of the rights of a minority against the will of the ma- 

In the meantime religion continued to occupy his mind, and 
Unitarianism soon failed to satisfy him. The natural religion of 
Chancing and Parker was not enough; Brownson turned back to the 
divinity of Christ. His essay, "The Mediatorial Life of Christ," 
showed that he had abandoned Channing and the Transcendental- 
ists, for he had come to feel that "the tendency to resolve God into 
nature is unscriptural and fatal to religion." 2 * In 1844 he at last 
found the peace and security he craved in the Catholic church, 
where his restless questioning came to an end in the acceptance of 
authority and discipline. 


Gloomy and analytical, restless and willful, Brownson was not a 
pleasant companion for the Transcendentalists, with whom he asso- 
ciated for a decade, although for the moment his philosophy was 
that of the group. His service to Transcendentalism and to Ameri- 
can letters lay in his editorship of the Boston Quarterly Review 
from 1838 to 1842. He undertook the Review, he said, "not because 
I am certain that the public wants it, but because I want it." What- 
ever its opinions were to be, he declared, they would probably be 
heretical, for he was willing to publish the views of any group that 
wished to place its ideas before the public. The journal was de- 
signed to support democratic principles and measures; its great idea 
was to be "freedom." As Brownson became more and more inter- 
ested in the laboring classes, his review tended to discuss problems 
of the day to the exclusion of other topics, and in 1 842 he merged it 
with the Democratic Review, which was devoted largely to social 
questions. When he became a Catholic he began the publication of 
an even more personal journal entitled Brownsotfs Quarterly Re- 

The Boston Quarterly Review dealt with many subjects, but all 
of them were treated from a Transcendentalist point of view. Every 
problem discussed by intellectual New England was mirrored in 
the Review. George Bancroft, George Ripley, Bronson Alcott, 
Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody, Theodore Parker, W. H. Chan- 
ning, and Albert Brisbane wrote for it, and in it Emerson's addresses 
and essays received their most searching reviews. When its last 
number appeared, William Ellery Channing gave it its accolade in 
the statement, "Take it all in all, it was 1 the best journal this country 
has ever produced, at once the most American, practical and awak- 
ening; the more so because its editor was a learner and shared his 
studies with his readers." 28 


Any account of the Transcendentalists must pay tribute to the 
new life breathed into the Unitarian faith by William Ellery Chan- 
ning, who died in 1842, when the Transcendentalist movement was 
at its height. Scarcely a member of the movement had reached matur- 
ity without coming closely under the beneficent influence of his deep 
spirituality and his beautiful optimistic nature. Channing, the Uni- 


tarian preacher, was at the same time the first of the Transcenden- 
talists. As early as 1 8 1 9 he announced his belief in God's beneficence; 
later he added the idea of man's excellence and then gradually fused 
the two into the feeling that religion itself is but the "adoration of 

Harriet Martineau, the English traveler, wrote of Charming: 

The one remarkable thing about him is his spirituality; and this is 
shown in a way which must strike the most careless observer, but of 
which he is himself unconscious. . . . Everyone who converses with 
him is struck with his natural, supreme regard to the true and the right; 
with the absence of all suspicion that anything can stand the competi- 
tion with these. . . . His charity towards frailty is as singular as his 
reprobation of spiritual vices is indignant. The genial side of his nature 
is turned toward the weak, and the sorely tempted and the fallen best 
know the real softness and meekness of his character. 28 

And a voice from another world confirmed Miss Martineau when 
the eccentric exiled Bonapartist, Achille Murat, who was, strangely 
enough, a friend of Emerson, wrote from frontier Florida that the 
Unitarians "have at their head at the present time a man of the rar- 
est merit and of exemplary virtue, a genuine Plato Dr. Chan- 
ning." 27 

With his interest in his fellow men and his keen sense of justice, 
it was inevitable that Dr. Channing should take an interest in the 
reforms that were occupying the attention of so many of his younger 
friends. He disliked controversy and was distressed at the acrimom- 
ousness and violence of controversialists. He hated slavery but couW 
not condone the extreme and incendiary statements of the aboli- 
tionists. He appealed to Henry Clay against the annexation of Texas 
and published several essays on the slavery controversy. The pas- 
sions of his life were two, a respect for human nature and a rever- 
ence for human liberty; slavery was compatible with neither. In 
politics his philosophy was Jeff ersonian, for he believed that "man 
is too ignorant to govern much, to form vast plans for states and 
empires. Human policy has almost always been in conflict with the 
great laws of social well-being; and the less we rely on it the better. 
The less of power given to man over man the better." 38 

With Jefferson and with the earlier French philosophers Chan- 
ning was the champion of civil liberties. One of his most important 


contributions to the antislavery controversy is at the same time a 
part of his great legacy to posterity. The conspiracy of silence that 
the slave-owners were attempting to fasten upon the country called 
for his defense of the freedom of discussion. That defense might at 
the same time serve as the apologia of the Transcendentalists, for 
with their individualism and their diversity there was little to hold 
them together except their common belief in the eternal Godlike- 
ness of man and in the wide range of reform movements they so 
freely and publicly discussed. The American democratic and evan- 
gelical faith could not have existed if the right of man to think, to 
speak, and to choose as he wished had been denied. Channing 

Of all powers, the last to be entrusted to the multitude of men, is 
that of determining what questions shall be discussed. The greatest 
truths are often the most unpopular and exasperating; and were they to 
be denied discussion, till the many should be ready to accept them, they 
would never establish themselves in the general mind. The progress of 
society depends on nothing more than on the exposure of time-honored 
abuses, which cannot be touched without offending multitudes, than 
on the promulgation of principles, which are in advance of public sen- 
timent and practice, and which are constantly at war with the habits, 
prejudices, and immediate interests of large classes of the community. 
Of consequence, the multitude, if once allowed to dictate or proscribe 
the subjects of discussion, would strike society with spiritual blindness, 
and death. . . . The right of free discussion is therefore to be guarded 
by the friends of mankind, with peculiar jealousy. It is at once the most 
sacred, and the most endangered of all our rights. He who would rob 
his neighbor of it, should have a mark set on him as the worst enemy 
of freedom. 29 


Millennialism and Spiritualism 

Through the western part of upstate Vermont and westward across 
New York from Albany to Buffalo ran one of the main routes from 
New England to the Great Lakes and the Middle West, and over it 
poured thousands of settlers from the hill towns of the East toward 
the new lands beyond the horizon. Untouched by foreign immigra- 
tion in the first half of the nineteenth century, this strip was entirely 
American. It was without large cities except for Albany, the capi- 
tal of New York, and Buffalo, the entrepot of the Great Lakes 
trade. Few factory towns had sprung up in the region, and its pop- 
ulation was largely made up of small farmers. 

This was the area that was sometimes called the "burnt" district 
because it had been swept by so many fires of religious excitement. 
Anything new in the way of religious belief seemed attractive to 
the jaded appetites of its inhabitants, and no new sect lacked some 
following. As early as 1790, when Vermont was just entering the 
Union as the fourteenth state, the Dorrilites ran their brief course. 
Their leader, Dorril, professed to be a prophet, basing his organiza- 
tion upon the communism thought to have been a tenet of the early 
Christian church. Vegetarianism and a prohibition on all clothing 
made at the expense of animal life were among his dictates. When 
his proud boast that "no arm can hurt my flesh" was proved untrue 
and he was felled by the blow of an unbeliever, the little group of a 
few score Dorrilites broke up and the sect disappeared. 

A decade later near Rutland, Vermont, a man named Winchell 
claimed to be able to discover buried treasure by the use of a divin- 
ing rod. He fell in with a certain Nathaniel Wood, whose hetero- 
doxy had previously caused his expulsion from the Congregational 
church. They combined forces, and the divining rod became the 
instrument of revelation. Opposition increased the fanaticism of 
the little cult, and the end of the world was prophesied with dire 
results for their opponents. When the prophecies failed, the "Wood 
Scrape," as it was called, disappeared in its turn, and most of the 
leaders moved on into western New York, where the son of one of 
them was among the early converts of Joseph Smith. 

In the period of revivals after 1815 the Green Mountain region 



saw yet another strange sect. A man named Bullard was the leader 
of the Pilgrims, a little group of about a hundred deluded souls who 
sought to discard the evidences of civilization and live in accord 
with primitive religious teaching. To communism, theocracy, and 
dictatorship, the sect added such peculiarities as refusal to wash, to 
shave, or to wear any clothing save bearskin tunics with leather 
girdles. The Pilgrims, too, moved westward across New York and 
settled first in Ohio and then in Missouri, where for some reason 
the leadership of Bullard disintegrated and his flock dispersed. Per- 
haps bearskin apparel and the absence of bathing were not such dis- 
tinguishing characteristics on the Western frontier. 

From northern Vermont also came the strange beliefs of William 
Miller; in the western part of the "burnt" district were heard the 
spirit-rappings of the Fox sisters; and from the same area came, 
later, the Perfectionism of John Humphrey Noyes and the first es- 
says of Joseph Smith toward the establishment of a new religion. 

Here the primitive Christianity of the revivalists encouraged a 
literal acceptance of biblical teaching and a pietism similar to that 
of the most extreme seventeenth-century English Puritans. Such a 
literal reading of the Bible led to interpretations of the contempor- 
ary scene that were full of danger for those whose piety exceeded 
their balance of judgment. Thoreau well understood the social dyna- 
mite in the teachings of Christ and, in surveying his New England, 
regretted that "Christianity only hopes. It has hung its harp in the 
willows, and cannot sing a song in a strange land. It has dreamed a 
sad dream and does not yet welcome the morning with joy." l And 
again, under "Sunday" in The Week, he wrote that he knew of no 
book that had so few readers as the Bible. 

To Christians [he ironically commented] no less than Greeks and Jews, 
it is foolishness and a stumbling block. There are, indeed, severe things 
in it which no man should read aloud more than once. "Seek first the 
kingdom of heaven." - "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth." - 
"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose 
his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" . . . 
Who, without cant, can read them aloud? Who, without cant, can 
hear them, and not go out of the meeting-house? They never were 
read, they never were heard. Let but one of these sentences be rightly 
read from any pulpit in the land, and there would not be left one stone 
of that meeting-house upon another. 2 


Without the wisdom of a Thoreau to guide them, many nine- 
teenth-century religious natures were led by their reading of the 
Bible to accept a millennialism that announced the second coming 
of Christ and the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. 
The prophecies of the New Testament taken as divine promises to 
be literally fulfilled in God's good time made a heady wine for 
Americans of primitive faith and literal minds. The less the world 
about them seemed to conform to the teachings of the Bible, the 
more true appeared the prophecies of millennial glory. 


William Miller, the chief exponent of Millennialism in America, 
was born near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1782, the eldest of six- 
teen children in an old New England family. His father was a 
Revolutionary War veteran and his mother the daughter of a Bap- 
tist preacher. When he was four years old, the family migrated 
northward to the frontier country of upper Vermont, where a log 
cabin was their first home. Young William could have had very 
little formal schooling, but he read all the books that came his way, 
providing light for his studies during long winter evenings by stor- 
ing carefully the choice pine knots found in the family wood lot. 
He had access to the library of the Vermont radical, Matthew Lyon, 
famed for his trial under the Sedition Act of 1798, and accumulated 
a large fund of historical information, which he used later in bol- 
stering his own theories. He married early and settled in the near-by 
village of Poultney, where he made full use of the village library, 
became known as the author of a patriotic song and other doggerel 
verse, joined the Masonic order, and was elected to local office, first 
as constable and then as sheriff. He was a Jeffersonian Democrat in 
politics and drifted with the current radical trend away from Cal- 
vinism to the careless deism of the young democrats. His worldli- 
ness was confirmed by army service in the War of 1812. 

Miller's attention was caught by a local revival soon after the 
war, however, and he devoted himself from that time forward to a 
consideration of the state of his soul. Month after month he studied 
the Bible and attended church services, growing more and more de- 
spondent. Finally, and in the end suddenly, he experienced conver- 
sion in the approved manner, joined the Calvinistic Baptist church, 


and there found comfort and happiness. His was a sincere and 
lasting piety. His days were filled with the labors of tending his 
two-hundred-acre farm, but the long evenings and quiet Sundays 
were spent in constant perusal of the Bible. He came to believe 
that the Scriptures should be accepted in entirety and literally 
and that every biblical prophecy would be fulfilled in the exact 
way and time it specified. The possibility of Christ's second coming 
soon became the most fascinating of all ideas for him, and he filled 
his leisure with intricate calculations to determine the time for such 
an advent. On the basis of Daniel's vision of the ram, the he-goat, 
and the little horn, in which there is mention of twenty-three hun- 
dred days, Miller made an elaborate calculation which, he thought, 
proved that the Second Advent would occur about the year 1843. 
Year after year Miller went over his calculations, puzzled over 
the meaning of obscure biblical references, and grew stronger in his 
own convictions. He was a quiet, mild-mannered man and a poor 
speaker, but he longed for the conversion of his friends and was 
convinced of his duty to prepare for the dread advent all those 
whom he could reach. In 1822 he prepared a long creed of twenty- 
two articles setting forth the reasons for his beliefs, but many years 
elapsed before he made public announcement of his faith. In 1828, 
at a revival in Low Hampton, Miller felt a "call" to tell the world 
of his discovery, but he was afraid of being criticized and misun- 

I tried to excuse myself [he said] for not going out and proclaiming it 
to the world. I told the Lord that I was not used to speaking; that I had 
not the necessary qualifications for gaining the attention of an audi- 
ence; that I was very diffident, and feard to go before the world; that 
I was slow of speech and of a slow tongue. But I could get no relief. 8 

His ideas became known, however, through conversation with his 
family and with neighbors, and in 1832 he was asked to discuss 
them in a near-by church, where for some reason there was no 
preacher for the Sunday services. The emergency, the long-repressed 
desire to share his vision, the curiosity of his friendly listeners, all 
contributed to give him confidence, and he suddenly found himself 
eloquent with eager, vivid speech depicting the glory of the ad- 
vent, the joy of those who were saved, the suffering of the wicked. 
His fascinated audience asked him to stay on for a week's revival 


service, at the end of which he joyfully recorded that thirteen fami- 
lies had been converted. 

After that his invitations to preach were numerous; Baptist, 
Methodist, and occasionally Congregational churches were thrown 
open to him, and he became known as a lecturer with a message on 
the second coming of Christ. In 1833 he became a Baptist minister 
and a revivalist, winning converts here and there to the Christian 
faith if not to his belief in the nearness of the second coming and of 
judgment day. 

Although Miller's popularity as a revivalist grew rapidly in up- 
state Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire, he might easily 
have had nothing but a local reputation had he not made an excur- 
sion far afield in a series of lectures in Massachusetts in 1840. For 
he then first met the Reverend Joshua V. Himes, the pastor of the 
Charndon Street Baptist Chapel in Boston, who became publicity 
agent, manager, and promoter for the quiet, middle-aged preacher 
from Vermont. Himes loved crowds, revivalism, emotional religion, 
camp meetings, and their attendant exhibitions of fear and peni- 
tence, and the opportunity to stage one of the most stupendous re- 
vival movements of all time was irresistible. 

It was Himes who arranged Miller's later speaking tours, adver- 
tised his movements, arranged the huge camp meetings, edited the 
Millennialist newspapers, the Signs of the Times in Boston and the 
New York Midnight Cry, and promoted the building of the great 
Millennial Tabernacle in Boston. Something of Himes's enthusiasm 
was infused into the diffident prophet of the second coming, and 
Miller's preaching was constantly more successful as the dread year 
1843 approached. In six months he delivered more than three hun- 
dred lectures, the constant theme of which was, Are you ready to 
meet your Saviour? Thousands were turned away from meetings, 
tents were put up on the outskirts of towns, tabernacles were built, 
and popular excitement was intense. 

Only the Middle West, remembering the camp meetings in the 
Kentucky forests a generation earlier, could have found anything 
familiar in the intense emotionalism of the Adventists' meetings by 
the summer of 1842 the last whole year they felt sure would be 
vouchsafed them. Miller himself was not a violent or ranting speaker. 
The tremendous effect of his preaching lay in its deadly sincerity 


and its biblical imagery. It is obvious that upon a receptive audience 
the following plea must have had a dramatic effect: 

I am satisfied that the end of the world is at hand. The evidence 
flows in from every quarter. . . . Soon, very soon God will arise in his 
anger and the vine of the earth will be reaped. See! See! the angel 
with his sharp sickle is about to take the field! See yonder trembling 
victims fall before his pestilential breath! High and low, rich and poor, 
trembling and falling before the appalling grave, the dreadful cholera. 
. . . Behold, the heavens grow black with clouds; the sun has veiled 
himself; the moon, pale and forsaken, hangs in middle air; the hail de- 
scends; the seven thunders utter loud their voices; the lightnings send 
their vivid gleams and sulphurous flames abroad; and the great city of 
the nations falls to rise no more forever and forever! At this dread mo- 
ment, look! The clouds have burst asunder; the heavens appear; the 
great white throne is in sight! Amazement fills the Universe with awe! 
He comes! He comes! -Behold the Saviour comes! Lift up your 
heads, ye saints He comes! He comes! He comes! 4 

The dramatic effect of poetry was not forgotten, and full use 
was made of music in increasing the intensity of feeling in revival 
meetings. In 1843 a hymn book, The Millennial Harp, was pub- 
lished by the Reverend Joshua Himes and was used thereafter in all 
meetings. The revivalistic worth of its contents seems more appar- 
ent than its literary merit, for the following is a f air example: 

The Alarm 

We are living, we are dwelling 
In a grand and awful time; 
In an age on ages telling 
To be living is sublime. 
Hark the waking up of nations, 
Gog and Magog to the fray; 
Hark! What soundeth? Is Creation 
Groaning for its latter day? 
Hark the onset! Will you fold your 
Faith-dead arms in lazy lock? 
Up, O, up! thou drowsy soldier 
Worlds are charging to the shock! 

Books and pamphlets on the subject of the Second Advent, pro 
and con, poured from the press "as profusely as autumn leaves, and, 
to most minds, about as devoid of nutriment." 6 The Bishop of Ver- 
mont published a brochure condemning the error of attempting to 


fix a date for the second coming. Ministers of all sects throughout , 
New England and the near-by states were active in print and in the 
pulpit in condemning the whole movement. Mobs of angry citizens 
tried to break up some of the Millerite meetings; even the prophet 
himself was assailed with eggs and decayed vegetables. But the 
crowds grew more dense, and the number of converts mounted. 

Miller himself, no longer young, worn out with both labor and 
emotion, was ill through most of 1843 an( i to k little part in the 
preaching of that year. But his pen was active, and his lieutenants 
carried on the work in some instances with too great a zeal. Himes 
constantly increased the workers in the field until there were sev- 
eral hundred itinerant speakers and a million converts were claimed. 
There were huge meetings in New York and Philadelphia, and the 
Middle West was invaded. In the absence of the prophet, Himes 
expended all his advertising ability and his great energy in advanc- 
ing the cause. Dates for future meetings were announced with the 
proviso "if time continues," and the immediacy of all measures was 
stressed. Sunday schools were organized, children's books and cate- 
chisms were published, and the Millennialist newspapers printed 
children's stories that ended with the words, "And that's the way 
the world is coming to an end." 


As the excitement mounted, men began to demand a date a def- 
inite day for the great event of the Lord's coming. Miller was re- 
luctant to make any such statement. The year 1843 was to him the 
last sure "year, of time"; whether the advent would occur during 
1843 or shortly thereafter, he could not say. Even if his estimate 
should prove slightly inaccurate, he pleaded, his followers should 
have faith that their deliverance would come soon, in God's ap- 
pointed time. Many of the Millerite preachers, however, were far 
less cautious. Their radicalism distressed Miller, and even Himes, 
more and more as 1843 wore on. A certain John Starkweather en- 
couraged the most violent physical manifestations of conversion 
among his followers, and hallucinations and catalyptic and epileptic 
attacks were considered evidences of extreme piety. Mesmerism was 
one of his accomplishments, and his camp meetings were orgies of 
exhibitionism that were heartily condemned by the leaders of the 


movement. Miller himself was always opposed to fanaticism, per- 
version of his ideas, and all "excess of zeal" little realizing that the 
dynamite of his original thesis was far too dangerous a weapon to 
place in the hands of his followers. 

As 1843 drew to its close, the dangers of such religious excite- 
ment and delusion became apparent. Suicides were attributed to 
despair over the necessity of facing the day of judgment. The state 
insane asylums reported the admission of several who had been 
crazed by fear of the end of the world. In Portsmouth, New Hamp- 
shire, a Millerite in voluminous white robes climbed a tree, tried to 
fly when he thought the fatal hour was near, fell, and broke his 
neck. A Massachusetts farmer cut his wife's throat because she re- 
fused to be converted to Millerism, and a despairing mother poi- 
soned herself and all her children. The editor of a New Bedford 
paper described the somewhat amusing anguish of a mechanic whom 
he had seen kneeling in the snow with a Millerite pamphlet in each 
hand, praying and blaspheming alternately in a "most piteous man- 
ner." In WUkesbarre, Pennsylvania, a storekeeper requested the 
sheriff to give all his goods to anyone who would take them away, 
and in New York another merchant offered to give a pair of shoes 
to anyone who needed them, since "he had no further use for 
them." 6 

With the passing of the year 1843 the Last Year the month 
of the spring equinox in 1844 was accepted as the appointed time, 
although the prophet still claimed no knowledge of an exact date. 
Worn out by strain and illness, William Miller eagerly awaited the 
end. "The time," he wrote on March 25, "as I have calculated it is 
now filled up, and I expect every moment to see the Saviour 
descend from heaven. I have now nothing to look for but this glori- 
ous hope." 7 

But the month of March passed, and "time" still continued. The 
doubtful departed from Millennialist ranks, and the scoffers were 
heard in taunts of renewed vigor. The workers in the field and the 
leaders made great efforts to keep interest alive and to refute the 
accusations of fraud and delusion. The great tabernacle in Boston 
was opened in May 1844, workers scurried from city to city, and 
camp meetings were held even in faraway Kentucky and Iowa. 
The tired, discouraged old prophet was persuaded to write a "Let- 


ter to Second Advent Believers" for publication in the various 
newspapers of the sect. There is profound pathos in his frank con- 
fession of his error in calculation and in his disappointment in the 
continuance of his own stay on earth, and there is quiet self-respect 
in his statement, 

Were I to live my life over again, with the same evidence that I then 
had, to be honest with God and man I should have to do as I have 
done. Although opposers said it would not come, they produced no 
weighty arguments. It was evidently guess work with them; and I then 
thought, and do now, that their denial was based more on an unwill- 
ingness for the Lord to come than on any arguments leading to such a 
conclusion. 8 

Under pressure of popular demand for a new Advent Day, the 
Millerite leaders chose October 22, 1844, on the basis that the Jew- 
ish method of calculation made that the much heralded "tenth day 
of the seventh month." Such definite assertions did not have Miller's 
approval, and it was only after a delegation of his field workers had 
reasoned with him long that his hopes were stirred and he, too, came 
to believe that the end of the world would surely come in October. 
Thus stimulated, the excitement was revived and soon exceeded the 
proportions of the preceding season. Preparations for the end were 
made by countless hundreds of joyous or desperate souls. White 
cloth was purchased and made into ascension robes. Nearly all secu- 
lar business was neglected after the first of October. Honest debt- 
ors sold all they had in order to meet their end with a clean slate, 
while many men of wealth realized upon their assets in order to 
help coreligionists whose debts were heavy. Voting was light in 
some districts in the fall elections, because men were concerned 
with eternal verities and had no time for such mundane things. 
Some, however, taking literally the biblical admonition to "occupy 
until I come," continued their normal enterprises as though time 
would continue indefinitely. 

Close observers noted that almost all those making conspicuous 
preparation for the end of the world and, indeed, the largest part of 
all Millennialist audiences were relatively poor and uneducated 
people. They were, for the most part, converts from the Methodist 
and Calvinistic Baptist sects; very few Unitarians, Presbyterians, or 
Episcopalians were found among them. It was die fanners, store- 


keepers, and laborers who flocked to the standard of the Second 
Advent preachers as they had to that of the itinerant evangelists 
and accepted the doctrine of immediate translation to a blissful 

There was much popular opposition to the Millerites as their 
chosen day approached. Fear or derision caused mobs to assemble, 
and there was serious rioting. The police closed several meeting 
places on the pretext that the streets were being blocked. In Boston 
crowds of curious boys crowded the fences and the roofs of low 
buildings near the Millennial Tabernacle in the belief that at the ap- 
pointed hour the roof would sail away and the triumphant wor- 
shipers would ascend to heaven. Much to their disappointment the 
mayor closed the building, saying the noise was a nuisance. In the 
country districts chores were left undone and crops unharvested, 
until town selectmen notified farmers that their work must be at- 
tended to or they would be treated as idlers and vagrants. 

Plans were made among the Millerites to meet the long-awaited 
day in groups. Tents were put up outside cities, preferably on hill- 
tops, and hundreds of people assembled on the night of October 21 
to keep their vigil together. No provision was made for food or 
rest, and as the night passed and then the day, and the next night 
wore on, the tension was intolerable. In some sections severe storms 
and heavy rainfall added to the alarm and suffering. The plight of 
the children in these, camps was piteous, but many of their elders 
succumbed more completely to the nervous strain. There were sev- 
eral suicides, and as the dawn of October 23 served notice that 
"time continued" regardless of prophecy, some heart-broken Mil- 
lennialists were led away insane. 

This final disappointment marked the end of the Millerite move- 
ment. Most of the prophet's devoted followers admitted their delu- 
sion and went about the process of renewing the normal routine of 
their lives. Some, feeling that the Lord as well as the prophet had 
cheated them, became frankly irreligious, while others, emotion- 
ally unhinged, remained in the Millerite association and led the 
sect into radical fanaticism, much to the distress of Miller and his 
devoted adherents, who admitted the errors of their mathematics 
but continued to uphold the truth of their major premise that the 
Second Advent was near. 


The last years of Miller's life were spent in despondency and ill- 
health and in a struggle to encourage a few followers to keep the 
Adventist faith alive. Read out of the Baptist church, Miller and the 
loyal members of his congregation formed a little Adventist church 
of their own, and the former prophet went up and down the Lake 
Champlain country in a vain effort to win enough support to re- 
establish Millennialism. He died in 1849, discredited and almost for- 
gotten. Joshua Himes lived on until 1895 for many years as an 
Episcopalian clergyman in faraway South Dakota. He must have 
kept some vestige of his belief in the millennium to the day of his 
death, for he arranged to be buried on a hilltop in order to be as 
near as possible when Gabriel should blow his horn. 

Adventism as a religious sect did not completely disappear with 
the debacle of 1844. Here and there in Europe and America later 
in the century small Adventist churches appeared, but instead of 
the excited thousands some said millions of the day of the Great 
Delusion there were then only a few scattered hundreds who ac- 
cepted the doctrine of the second coming. 


Adventism was only one manifestation of the desire to break 
down all barriers between this world and the next between man 
and the Creator and between living aspirants after perfection and 
the elect who had preceded them in the quest for salvation. No 
question has been more persistent in the human mind than that of 
immortality, and some form of spiritualism, or attempt at contact 
with the spirit world, has appeared in many countries and among 
people in all stages of civilization. The Spiritualism that swept over 
the United States in the mid-nineteenth century was remarkable 
only for its vigor and for the large numbers of men and women 
who became deeply interested in it. How thoroughly it was a legiti- 
mate offspring of the age, an expression of the young republic's 
faith, is well shown by the words of Andrew Jackson Davis, Spiritu- 
alist himself and precursor of the American medium: 

. * . the era of mythology and superstition is fast decaying. Ignorance, 
bigotry, skepticism, fanaticism, intolerance, spiritual depression, and all 
slavery the great evils which now beset mankind are rapidly dis- 
persing; they shall recede entirely from the earth, never again to en- 
slave and degrade humanity. This world of thought and affection, and 


of social relations, shall be progressively purified, until there shall be 
unfolded a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteous- 
ness. And the evils which now exist, shall be known only to those who 
will trace the history of our race; which they will do with mingling 
feelings of pity and regret. By spiritual intercourse we learn that all men 
shall ultimately be joined into one Brotherhood, their interests shall be 
pure and reciprocal; their customs shall be just and harmonious; they 
shall be as one Body, animated by Universal Love and governed by 
pure Wisdom. Man's future is glowing with a beautiful radiance. The 
mental sky is fast becoming clear and serene; the scene is one of gran- 
deur and sublimity. Truth will consume all error and artificial theol- 
ogy, whose power is weakened; and whose corruptions are revealed, 
by the divine light of Nature's manifestations. Yea all evil and error 
will be finally subdued, and banished by the triumph of the principles 
that are good, divine, and unchangeable, and unrighteousness shall be 
no more! Streams of good and healthy inspirations will spring up, and 
flow down to cleanse and refresh the moral world, on whose advancing 
tide the whole race will ascend to intellectual and social harmony, and 
to a high state of spiritual elevation and intercourse. 9 

This optimism was truly American, and its vision of a glorious 
future was little different from that of Lyman Beecher or of many 
other American writers of the period. The only unusual note was 
the mention of spiritual intercourse, and that idea had become fa- 
miliar to Americans through acquaintance with the life and teach- 
ings of the Swedish savant, Emamiel Swedenborg, whose works 
had been brought to this country with those of other eighteenth- 
century philosophers. In the great renewal of interest in all such 
ideas in the early nineteenth century, Swedenborg's philosophy was 
widely discussed, Swedenborgian societies were formed, and his 
New Church attracted many small groups of adherents. In regard 
to life after death, Swedenborgianism provided for a very real and 
tangible spirit world, where men could continue to grow toward 
perfection, where all children were received alike, whether bap- 
tized or not, and grew to maturity under the care of older and 
wiser spirits, and where there was no eternal punishment, but only 
provision for the improvement of imperfect souls. 

If Swedenborgianism predisposed the educated to an interest in 
the spirit world, there were other agencies more effective upon 
minds less well trained. Emma Hardinge, an ardent Spiritualist and 
early historian of the movement, names many somewhat incongru- 


ous "adventists of Spiritualism": mesmerism, electro-biology, clair- 
voyance, chemistry, physiology, phrenology, and magnetism. In 
other words, she believed that all the new ideas of science and 
pseudo science led men to the point where there seemed no barrier 
between their minds and the solution of the ultimate mysteries of 
death and immortality. Spiritualism, she said, was the "coronal 
glory of the capital" of the column of all the sciences. 10 

With a similar feeling that there were no limits set for the minds 
and spirits of men and no obstacle in the way of new divine revela- 
tions, Paulina Bates, a Shaker seeress of the early nineteenth cen- 
tury, wrote 'in defense of her mediumistic powers: 

Whence arises the opinion that there is no further revelation from 
God ever to be looked for? Surely not from the sacred scriptures, nor 
from sound reason; for these declare that the works of the Great Cause 
are continually increasing. Do not all the elements of nature, with all 
their powers, and the faculties of man, continue to be more and more 
developed and brought to light? And shall the spiritual powers and 
light of divine truth remain stationary, and no further increase of 
knowledge be given on these subjects, in comparison of which all nat- 
ural and earthly things sink into insignificance? u 


Andrew Jackson Davis, the "Poughkeepsie Seer," a later clair- 
voyant of somewhat the same kind as Paulina Bates, was born in 
1826. His father was a shoemaker and a weaver, reputed to be 
"honest but shiftless" and often out of a job. The boy was under- 
sized, probably poorly nourished, delicate, and sensitive. He had 
little schooling and at the age of fifteen was apprenticed to a shoe- 
maker. In 1843 a lecturer on animal magnetism, a Professor Grimes, 
came to Poughkeepsie, and it was discovered that young Davis 
was easily hypnotized. After that a village tailor named Levington 
continually hypnotized the boy and made of him a professional 
medium whose chief occupation was clairvoyant diagnosis and pre- 
scription for disease. 

After a year of this life Davis wandered off in a self-induced 
trance and came back after some days with a tale of long conversa- 
tions with Galen and Swedenborg, in which he had been given 
instruction as to the use to be made of his contact with the supernat- 
ural. Soon he met a doctor and a minister who took upon them- 


selves the work of guiding or exploiting his peculiar gifts. The 
doctor acted as professional collaborator in his medical work and 
as his "magnetizer," while the minister became the scribe who took 
down the words that flowed through him in his trances. Thus were 
prepared the many lectures and books that bear his name. 

Among them only two need be mentioned. The Magic Staff was 
Davis' autobiography up to 1857. It was followed by a supplement 
for his later years. The book reveals him as a sincere, earnest, but 
confused reformer, interested in every sort of radical idea and con- 
vinced of his mission and of the reality of his contact with the spirit 
world. He founded no church and sought no mass conversions, but 
held himself to be a link between this world and a greater, eternal 
realm. His first contribution in the field of philosophy and prob- 
ably his best known work was a series of lectures made in a state of 
trance, entitled The "Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, 
and A Voice to Mankind, but sometimes called The Harmonial Phi- 
losophy. The work is, as the title indicates, in three parts. The first 
two form a long and vague description of the evolution of the uni- 
verse from a primal fire mist. The scientific part of the description 
is a hodgepodge of half -digested fact and theory, a mixture of all 
ideas current in that day. The philosophy is involved, wordy, and 
often scarcely intelligible, owing much to Swedenborgianism and 
other types of mystical symbolism. The central idea seems to be 
that the universe is one great whole. The "Voice to Mankind" is 
another hodgepodge, this time of social reforms and crude social- 
istic theory, with a mixture of phalanxes and cooperatives. 

Clairvoyance aside, there is nothing in the book that could not 
have been produced by a man with a retentive memory who had 
had access to books or had heard lectures upon such subjects. Con- 
tinual hypnotism might conceivably have released Davis' subcon- 
scious mind and permitted the outpouring of everything stored in 
his memory. There seems to have been no conscious plagiarism and 
no intent of fraud. In fact, there is far too much confusion and too 
little accuracy for a charge of plagiarism to hold water. The Har- 
monial Philosophy went through thirty-four editions in thirty years. 
Somehow Davis had managed to express the aspirations and social 
needs of the inarticulate and to voice their protest against the waste, 
the injustice, and the futilities of modern industrial society. An- 


drew Jackson Davis deserves a place among the names both of 
American reformers and of American Spiritualists. 


A series of occurrences in a little village in northern New York 
in 1848 set off a Spiritualist excitement that was soon to become 
almost a mania. In that village lived a farmer, John D. Fox, with 
his wife and two young daughters, Maggie and Katie. An elder sis- 
ter, Leah Fish, a young widow, lived in the near-by city of Roch- 
ester and made her living teaching music. In February trouble 
began for the Fox family. Mysterious rappings sounded on the floor, 
walls, and furniture of whatever room the children happened to be 
occupying. The mother was frightened, the father scoffed, and the 
- little girls seemed to enjoy the excitement. 

One night the younger child, Katie, called out, "Here Mr. Split- 
foot, do as I do!" and the mysterious influence, whatever its na- 
ture, responded with the same number of raps the child gave. The 
mother's long testimony, taken in the first investigation of the phe- 
nomena, is the best account of how from that small beginning she 
and the children worked out a system of communication by which 
the "spirits" answered with raps any questions they were asked. In 
this way various local mysteries were solved, and much excitement 
was created. Neighbors flocked in to see and to hear the communi- 
cations with the spirit world. The elder sister came home to act as 
manager for the exhibitions. She always insisted that the public 
meetings were held only at the urgent insistence of the spirits, who 
had a great revelation to make to the world through the Fox sisters. 
At any rate, with the collaboration of an E. W. Capron of Auburn, 
New York, who became a Spiritualist and a medium himself, the 
sisters became professional mediums, holding public meetings and 
charging fees. At once investigations were conducted by indignant 
unbelievers, and in the ensuing publicity hundreds of eager con- 
verts were made. Other mediums sprang up all over the country, 
although the Fox sisters remained very much the vogue, and Spirit- 
ualist circles were formed in every town and nearly every village." 

Techniques were developed rapidly. The spirits, through Mrs. 
Fish, demanded darkness, and, indeed, the manifestations were far 
more numerous when the darkness was absolute. Table moving, 

A Western camp meeting 

The Fox sisters, spirit rappers 

Orestes Brownson, 
Transcendentalist editor 

William Miller, 
evangelist of the Great Delusion 

And Pearfal Sights and Great Signs shall there be &w 

"-Last Day Tokens" of the Millerite Millemialists 


spirit writing, and cold ghostly hands were soon added to the 
mystic raps, and within a few years almost all the phenomena of 
twentieth-century Spiritualism were in evidence. Prominent people 
became interested in the Fox girls and in the subject of spirit con- 
tacts. Horace Greeley took the sisters into his home when they 
were in New York and said in the Tribune that "it would be the 
basest cowardice not to say that we are convinced beyond a doubt 
of their perfect integrity and good faith." 18 In his Recollections 
Greeley states that he never felt the rappings were a fraud, but, he 
adds, he was disinclined to go deeply into the matter, because "to 
sit for two dreary, mortal hours, in a darkened room, in a mixed 
company, waiting for someone's disembodied grandfather or aunt 
to tip a table or rap on a door, is dull music at best." " 

Judge Edmonds of the New York supreme court came to in- 
vestigate and was completely won over by the Fox sisters. The fact 
that he had for some time been in a state of great depression and 
had given up all religious faith may have contributed to his conver- 
sion. In 1853 he published, jointly with a Dr. Dexter, a lengthy 
treatise on Spiritualism that greatly increased its popularity. Ex- 
Governor Tallmadge of Wisconsin, a wealthy New Yorker named 
Partridge, and an elderly scientist, Professor Hare, lent respecta- 
bility to the movement, and soon a group of ministerial converts 
gave it a religious significance and made of it a cult. 

Some years later the Fox sisters, as the result of a family quarrel, 
recanted and exposed their whole career as one great fraud, admit- 
ting that the rappings had from the first been produced by the 
joints of their toes hence the "Mr. Splitfoot." But their confession 
had very little eff ect on the Spiritualists, who insisted that the re- 
cantation, not the career, was the fraud, and that the unfortunate 
Katie, who made the confession, had yielded to the. pressure of evil 
advisers. Harvard professors attended seances and argued gravely 
over the possibility of deception, even as other competent observers 
were proving fraud on the part of many mediums. 

In the period from the first popular interest in the 1840*8 to the 
Civil War, American Spiritualism was not a separate church; it re- 
mained a movement in a chaotic state. There were hundreds of 
mediums and Spiritualist circles, but little or no coherence or or- 
ganization. If an analysis were made of those who were most con- 


cerned in the movement, most of the leaders would probably be 
found among those who had, through rationalism or indifference, 
lost all interest in any organized religion. Some, however, came 
from the Universalist ministry, whether or not because there was 
any particular connection between their Universalism and their in- 
terest in Spiritualism it is impossible to state. Seances were attended 
by men and women from all classes and professions. A judge, a 
state governor, several legislators, a scientist, and a sprinkling of 
university professors and newspaper editors were mentioned with 
pride by the Spiritualist writers, but the rank and file of those in- 
terested were the same sort of people who went over to many of 
the other religious extravagances of the period. 

From the beginning there seemed to be a connection between 
Spiritualism and social reform. The Shakers were Christian com- 
munists, Brook Farm was interested in Swedenborgianism, the 
Hopedale Community had as its head the Reverend Adin Ballou, 
who became a Spiritualist. The Wisconsin Phalanx was founded 
by Warren Chase of Spiritualist renown, and the North American 
Phalanx was the work of Horace Greeley. In 1851 the Spiritualists 
founded a very short-lived communistic society of their own at 
Mountain Cove, Virginia, and a settlement founded in the same year 
at Modern Times, Long Island, had Spiritualist leanings. Spiritual- 
ism also played its part in the movements for the reform of the 
institution of marriage. Spiritual affinities and spiritual wives were 
phrases used by certain radical theorists, and violent opposers of 
Spiritualism hurled the dread accusation of "free love" at even the 
slightest relaxing of standards in matters of sex. Andrew Jackson 
Davis and many other mediums were reformers along several lines, 
although the biographer of Katie Fox insists that "Katie was as ig- 
norant as a vegetable of the social tendencies which surrounded 
her mediumship. No social theory of any kind either progressive 
or alarmist even entered her head." 15 

All who believed in the authenticity of Spiritualist phenomena 
were not convinced of the wisdom of tampering with the spirit 
world. Not yet aware of the complexities of man's mental struc- 
ture, they felt there was dire danger in too much knowledge of the 
mysteries of life and death. That religious experimenter, Orestes 
Brownson, wrote a book, partly autobiographical, partly fiction, 


called The Spirit Rapper. In it, he accepted the work of the medi- 
ums as done in good faith and their communications as valid, but he 
maintained that their spirits were demoniac and dangerous agencies. 
He deplored the fact that the movement had grown to such an 
extent without a serious effort to arrest it. "It is," he said, "making 
sad havoc with religion, breaking up churches, taking its victims 
from all denominations, with stern impartiality; and yet the great 
body of those not under its influence merely deny, laugh, or cry 
out 'humbug! 7 'delusion!' Delusion it is. I know it now, but not in 
their sense." 16 And Thomas Low Nichols, a New Englander who 
espoused many a reform movement of the period from 1830 to 
1860 and who was a somewhat unwilling believer in Spiritualist 
phenomena, ended with these words a long description of s6ances 
he had attended: 

Without wishing to give an uncharitable judgment, I think it may 
be conceded that spiritualism has been revolutionary, chaotic, disor- 
derly, tending, for the present at least, in many cases, to produce moral 
and social evils. That it may be providential, and tend to good in the 
future, few will be rash enough to deny. 17 

With all its crudities and all its extravagances, the Spiritualist 
movement of the period after 1848 was an integral part both of the 
romantic faith of America and of the American reform movements 
of the time. It was in some respects, as Emma Hardinge claimed, the 
"coronal glory" of the optimism and faith in the individual that 
characterized American thought. The Transcendentalist, the Mill- 
erite, and the Spiritualist, each in his own way, typified the eager- 
ness with which the New World grasped at things of the spirit. 


The Stake in Zion 

Neither so dramatic in its appeal as Spiritualism nor so immediate in 
pledge of a more glorious day as Millerism, but yet filled with 
millennialism and Utopian prophecy, was the religious faith of Jo- 
seph Smith and his Latter Day Saints. The founder and almost all 
the early leaders of this new church were born on American soil 
and were, to a marked degree, men from the same old New Eng- 
land stock. Through the first decade its membership came almost 
entirely from the same class of people: the poor, restless, and dis- 
satisfied, those who succumbed eagerly to religious emotionalism 
and those whose fortunes were at low ebb. Something new in the 
way of faith, anything new in the way of economic status, new 
homes, new lands, new masters all were enticing since nothing 
could fail to be better than the old. Where life as it was promised 
little satisfaction, change might be expected to bring improvement. 


Born in VermonF5TT8o8, Joseph Smith was the fourth child of 
wandering, ne'er-do-well parents. His father and mother were both 
from old New England families that seem to have been poor and 
totally undistinguished for generations. Sometimes farming, some- 
times keeping a village store, Joseph Smith, the father, moved his 
growing family nineteen times in ten years, succeeding no better in 
each new habitat. In 1816 he finally decided to try a new state and 
moved to the village of Palmyra, New York, where he ran a small 
"Cake and Beer .Shop" and did odd jobs on the side. The family had 
little success in the new venture, the shop was given up, and fann- 
ing was tried again. This time the Smiths squatted on the land of 
some nonresident minors and built a four-room log cabin. There 
they stayed until Joseph Jr. started his new religion and swept the 
whole family into a sort of Arabian Nights adventure. 

Joseph Sr. seems to have been first a Universalist and later a 
Methodist, although in neither instance with great conviction. As 
he grew older he dreamed dreams and had what he called visions, 
which seem to have made some impression on his own family. His 
wife, Lucy Mack Smith, was far more interested in religion than he, 



although she found comfort in none of the current sects and was 
always on the watch for some new cult. Coming of a family ad- 
dicted to revelations and a belief in the miraculous, she puzzled 
over their dreams and visions and believed their claims about their 
persecutions. What comfort her hard life afforded seems to have 
been derived from her neurotic religiosity and from the hope that 
one of her sons might have a messianic career. The strain of epi- 
lepsy in her family was transmitted in a mild form to her children, 
and they were early imbued with her religious emotionalism. 

There was nothing in the early life of Joseph Jr. to indicate that 
he might rise above the level of the family. On the village street he 
was the butt of practical jokes and seems to have been regarded as 
"not quite bright." His Mormon biographer, Orson Pratt, could 
find no evidence that his education extended beyond the most ele- 
mentary knowledge of the three R's, and many Mormons have 
claimed that this very paucity of training and background is proof 
of divine aid and inspiration in his achievement. Early opponents of 
Mormonism carefully recorded the opinions of "Young Joe" ex- 
pressed by New York neighbors of the Smith family. "Shiftless," 
"indolent," "prevaricating," and "cunning" were the adjectives 
most commonly used. Frequent mention is made of Joseph's imag- 
ination and his wild pretensions and claims to power and wealth. 
Daniel Hendrix, a Palmyra resident who aided Smith in publishing 
The Book of Mormon, has left a description that summarizes the 
scattered opinions of others: 

Joe was the most ragged, lazy fellow in the place, and that is saying 
a good deal. ... I can see him now in my mind's eye, with his torn 
and patched trousers held to his form by a pair of suspenders made out 
of sheeting, with his calico shirt as dirty and black as the earth, and his 
uncombed hair sticking through the holes in his old battered hat. In 
winter I used to pity him, for his shoes were so old and worn out that 
he must have suffered in the snow and slush; yet Joe had a jovial, easy, 
don't-care way about him that made him a lot of warm friends. . . . 
I never knew so ignorant a man as Joe was to have such a fertile imag- 
ination. He never could tell a common occurrence in his daily life 
without embellishing the story with his imagination. 1 

In the years before 1830 the Joseph Smiths, father and son, spent 
much of their time hunting for buried treasure or lost articles with 
a forked stick, preferably of witch hazel. Their success with the di- 


vining rod was negligible, but such was the gullibility of their neigh- 
bors or the plausibility of their excuses that they were often em- 
ployed. Joe's mother forgot his failures and, remembering only his 
claims, spread the story of his mystical power. Joseph Sr. seems to 
have been equally deluded and gravely announced that it was best 
to dig for treasure in the summer, when the heat of the sun brought 
the money to the surface of the earth. Among the stones found near 
Palmyra were certain small, peculiar glasslike objects that the su- 
perstitious called "magic stones" or "peek stones." The fortunate 
owner of such a stone was thought to be able, by gazing intently 
into it, to find lost or stolen goods. Young Joseph saw his first peek 
stone in 1818 and yearned for one like it. Some years later, while 
helping in the digging of a well, he found such a stone and kept it as 
his most cherished possession, gazing into it until he convinced him- 
self that it conferred upon him powers not often given to men. There 
was as yet no religious significance in these pretensions; they merely 
won for the boy a certain prestige with the more superstitious of his 
fellows and compensated in a measure for his inferior position in all 
other respects. 

In 1820 there was much excitement in Palmyra. A new wave of 
revivalism was sweeping across New York, and Methodist, Baptist, 
and Presbyterian evangelists vied with each other in camp meetings 
and revival services. The elder Smiths succumbed to the fever and 
joined the Presbyterian church. Young Joseph held aloof but ea- 
gerly attended the meetings. With his usual skill at adding imagina- 
tive detail to his own stories, he stumbled home one day to relate a 
marvelous tale of his own solitary conversion. Praying alone in 
a retired spot, he had been "seized upon by some power which en- 
tirely overcame me ... so that I could not speak." In utter terror 
he lay expecting destruction, until a brilliant light revealed to him 
"two personages" whose brightness and glory defied all description. 
They spoke to him, announcing that they were the Saviour and 
God the Father, and told him that all existing religious beliefs were 
false and he should accept none of them. Joseph's mother believed ' 
every word of the story and repeated it far and wide, even though 
the evangelists to whom she had been listening used every argu- 


ment to persuade her and her son of their error. Apparently from 
that time on the Smiths expected Joseph to continue his miraculous 
contacts, for they all left the Presbyterian fold and awaited the 
establishment of the new faith predicted by the visitants. 

From this point in the career of Joseph Smith it is impossible to 
determine what degree of veracity and sincerity to ascribe to the 
accounts of the young man and his family and friends. It is equally 
impossible to make any statement for or against the validity of his 
whole contention without touching upon a controversy that began 
with the very inception of the Mormon faith and has continued to 
this day. For many he was to be the prophet and favored confidant 
of God, the founder of the only true church, and the father and 
messiah of his people. To countless thousands of others he has 
seemed a liar and a deliberate charlatan, a comic figure of deception 
and crime, whose tragic death was a fitting end to a career that had 
meant delusion and disaster for his followers. Modern biographers 
with a leaning toward psychology and psychiatry call him a self- 
deceived zealot, a man of split personality, afflicted with epilepsy, 
dementia praecox, and various other ills of unbalanced mind, evolv- 
ing his new religion in the realm of the subconscious, deceiving others 
because he first deceived himself. Conscious or unconscious charla- 
tan, self -deceived or flamboyantly triumphant in his ability to take 
advantage of the gullibility of others, true or false prophet, the 
crude, uneducated, neurotic fanner and treasure hunter became a 
man of unusual powers of leadership and of remarkable success as 
an organizer. Valid or invalid in its fundamental tenets, the Mor- 
mon church became a fact, and Joseph Smith was its Prophet. 

The circumstances of the finding of the plates from which The 
Book of Mormon was translated are somewhat obscure, because of 
the conflicting accounts Smith gave. The story he told first was 
of finding with the aid of his peek stone a book hidden in the 
ground. It was a tale of ancient secular history, which he was able 
to read, again with the aid of the magic stone. But in later variations 
on the story the book became metallic, and then golden, and finally 
there evolved an elaborate description of engraved golden plates. 
There was some talk of translation, publication, and sale, and even 
of exhibiting the plates with an admission fee for the benefit of the 
Smiths. Indeed, from the beginning the idea of financial return for 


the "discovery" seems to have been prominent. Gradually the idea 
of a new Bible, and even of a new church, began to grow in the 
minds of Joseph and his family. With the hypersensitivity of Lucy 
Mack Smith for all religious stimuli such a transfer of ideas seems 
inevitable. Whether there was at this early date any shrewd outside 
adviser aiding the Smiths it is impossible to state. 

The authenticity of the golden plates is of vital importance of 
course, for if they were part of an elaborate hoax, there is no valid 
basis for the Mormon church. It can only be said that, aside from 
Smith's own claims, there is no well-based evidence given by credit- 
able witnesses that the plates ever existed. When the decision was 
made to call them a new Bible, the arrangements for translation were 
such as to preserve them from hostile eyes. Allegedly using magic 
stones or spectacles, called the Urim and Thummim, Smith made 
the translation orally in a curtained recess while in the outer cham- 
ber an assistant copied down his words. Apparently as a necessary 
preliminary to securing aid for financing publication, Smith finally 
agreed to permit a few of his eager assistants to look at the plates in 
the box he had made to contain them. 

There are several versions of the exhibition of the plates to the 
Three Witnesses, as the Mormon church has always called them. 
They were taken out into the woods with the box which, they were 
told, held the plates; there were some hours of prayer and exhorta- 
tion, and then at last they were permitted to look into the box. 
After renewed prayers, the three men were willing to sign a long 
affidavit to the effect that they had seen the plates. It contained the 
following somewhat sweeping statement: 

We have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they 
have been shewn unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And 
we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down 
from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld 
and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is 
by the grace of God, the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we 
beheld and bear record that these things are true, and it is marvelous in 
our eyes, nevertheless the voice of the Lord commanded that we should 
bear record of it. 2 

Martin Harris, one of the three, later testified that he had not 
seen the plates as one would an ordinary object, but rather "with 


the eyes of faith . . . though at the time they were covered with a 
cloth." The solemnity of the experience in the woods made such an 
impression upon all three men that they maintained throughout 
their lives that they had seen the golden plates. Not even later apos- 
tasy from the Mormon faith lessened their steadfastness. It must be 
conceded that they thought the vision had been vouchsafed them, 
although it is obvious that the setting and circumstances were ideal 
for hallucination or light hypnosis. They did so desperately want 
to see, and the prayers and exhortations had been so fervent. 

After a similar exhibition to eight witnesses, the precious plates 
were not again exposed to prying eyes. As the last words of the 
translation were written, an angel appeared and swept away both 
the plates and the magic aids used in their translation. At least so 
Joseph Smith declared. 8 

In the meantime the Smith family had continued its normal life 
of shiftless poverty. Joseph used his peek stone in an effort to win 
a livelihood with little exertion and found it as successful as the 
divining rod had been. About this time he met and won the heart 
of Emma Hale, a farmer's daughter somewhat above him in station. 
Her father insisted that he settle down and show himself able to 
earn a decent living before marrying Emma. But work was irk- 
some, and the young people did not want to wait; so there was a 
romantic elopement, and Joseph took his bride back to live with 
his family in Palmyra. With another member, and that one who 
wanted a secure and comfortable life, the shiftless Smith family 
needed a surer and larger income. Perhaps the translation of the 
golden plates could be made to provide it. 

Martin Harris and the Whitmer family, whose members had 
been witnesses to the existence of the plates, were prevailed upon 
to finance the publication of the translation, and in 1830 there ap- 
peared for sale in upper New York a book that bore on its tide page 
the inscription: The Book of Mormon. An Account Written by 
the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi. 
A summary of the contents included the statement that the revela- 
tion had been "sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the 
Lord, to come forth in due time, by way of the Gentile The in- 
terpretation thereof by the Gift of God." The first edition con- 
tained the damaging admission, "By Joseph Smith, Junior, Author 


and Proprietor," but later editions omitted any claim to earthly 

In style of writing the book was an imitation of the Bang James 
version, and some of its chapters were lifted bodily from the Old 
and New Testaments. Nearly six hundred pages long and lethally 
dull, it was ornamented by occasional bits from Shakespeare, and 
contained sections of pseudo history of ancient America and of re- 
ligious teaching. It was full of faulty grammar and anachronisms 
and was apparently not considered a perfect translation by Smith 
and his successors, since several thousand corrections have been 
made. But, regardless of its peculiarities, The Book of Mormon has 
been translated into twelve languages, and some twenty thousand 
copies have been printed each year for a century. 

At once the question arose as to where the ignorant Joseph could 
have obtained both ideas and data for so pretentious a volume. For 
Mormons the answer is simple: The whole project, plates and trans- 
lation, was inspired, and Joseph Smith was chosen of God as the 
medium for establishing His church on earth. For the anti-Mormon 
or non-Mormon, the solution is not so simple. Biographers and crit- 
ics, delving into all the known facts of the lives of Smith and his 
early followers, have worried out of them a variety of explanations. 
There was, for instance, the famous discovery of an unpublished 
novel by a man named Spaulding that was in many ways similar to 
the historical parts of The Book of Mormon, and it was proved 
that Smith might have seen this manuscript or have heard portions 
of it read. The fact that Sidney Rigdon, Campbellite Baptist minis- 
ter and later a disciple of Smith's, was in the vicinity of Palmyra at 
certain critical times has led him to be considered the source of the 

Modern writers tend to attribute much of the book to Joseph 
Smith's subconscious mind in some sort of trancelike state. "Every 
word," says Beardsley, "which the subconscious personality emit- 
ted through the vocal chords of Joseph Smith, Jr., is explicable to 
the psychologist. . . . Every phrase, every sentence, every idea 
had an origin somewhere in Joe's past mental experience." * The 
dreams of his grandfathers and of his mother, his constant Bible 
reading, the Indian legends of western New York, the stories of 
Captain Kidd, the economic, political, and social ideas of his own 


day, all were worked into the book. Mysterious and abnormal it 
may be, as were the processes of Joseph's mind, but no supernatural 
explanation is necessary, nor does one need to find any other human 
agency. Even in the 1830*8 Alexander Campbell wrote: 

He decides all of the great controversies . . . infant baptism, the 
Trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, atone- 
ment, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, the call 
to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may 
baptise, and even the questions of Free-masonry, republican govern- 
ment, and the rights of man. 5 

Not for nothing had Joseph Smith been a sermon-taster and a ne'er- 
do-well loafer around the village store. 


Whether author or prophet, Joseph Smith was without honor in 
his own country. The precious book did not sell well. So by special 
revelation its price was lowered to one dollar and twenty-five cents," 
and Joseph's father and brothers were commissioned as book agents. 
They traveled far and wide, advertising it as a history of the In- 
dians when Bibles seemed unmarketable and accepting part pay- 
ment in such commodities as wood, vegetables, and chickens. In the 
meantime the project of establishing a new church got .under way, 
Joseph announced that by angelic baptism he had been ordained the 
First Elder of the church with power to ordain his assistants. A 
state charter was procured, and in April 1830 "The Church of 
Jesus Christ" met for the first time in the house of Peter Whitmer. 
The Smith and Whitmer families and a half-dozen other followers 
made up the first congregation. 

At first the growth was very slow. The Smiths commanded no 
respect in that district, and Joseph's pretensions were not taken se- 
riously. The new church might easily have died at this juncture had 
it not been for the promoting activities of two Campbellite minis- 
ters from Ohio, Parley Pratt and Sidney Rigdon. Their first con r 
tacts with Smith are a little obscure, but it is certain that in the 
winter of 1830, on their advice, it was decided to move the new 
church from Palmyra to Ohio. In 1833 a resident of Palmyra wrote, 

All the Mormons have left this part of the state, and so palpable is their 
imposture that nothing is here said or thought of the subject, except 
when inquiries from abroad are occasionally made concerning them. I 


know of no one now living in this section of the country that ever gave 
them credence. 6 

The move to Ohio was a great strategic step, for at Kirtland in the 
Western Reserve there was a more fertile field, already tilled by 
such able husbandmen as the revivalist leaders of the older churches. 
Anything new in religion was assured of a hearing, and no one was 
familiar with the sordid background of Joseph Smith. 

There were many converts during the early years in Kirtland, 
among them some of the ablest men the Latter Day Saints, as they 
were then called, were to acquire. The Young brothers, Phineas 
and Brigham, their father, their sister and her husband, and a family 
friend, Heber Kimball, all became members of the church between 
1830 and 1832. Brigham Young's biographer suggests that that 
shrewd and skeptical young man early discerned that the new re- 
ligion might easily be made a paying proposition. 7 Parley Pratt's 
brother, Orson, later one of the leaders of the church, was baptized 
at nineteen. He became a mathematician of prominence whose 
Quadratic Equations was used as a textbook in the University of 
Paris. W. W. Phelps, the ex-editor of an anti-Masonic newspaper in 
New York, came into the church, bringing his literary and editorial 
ability to its service. It was he who was responsible for much of the 
Prophet's literary work; he edited the revelations, wrote the 
speeches, and acted as press agent. 


With these and other able, if self-interested, leaders the new 
church was provided with priests, missionaries, and administrators. 
The change of scene and the presence of admiring converts en- 
couraged Joseph Smith to ever more dramatic evidences of lead- 
ership and of his messianic character. He attempted miracles of 
healing, essayed to walk upon the water, tried to raise the dead. He 
was continually in communion with God, who spoke through him 
in the revelations by which Smith governed his church and dictated 
to his lieutenants. At first these revelations may have been the prod- 
uct of self-hypnosis or of the same sort of self-delusion that had 
produced The Book of Mormon; later in their frequency and their 
trivial character they could have been only the convenient device 
used to secure mastery by a shrewd but cynical dictator. At first 


Smith used the technique of the translation, gazing into his peek 
stone until the revelation was formed in his mind or appeared to 
him. Later he merely deliberated briefly and then uttered each sen- 
tence slowly and impressively while a scribe wrote it down. He 
seldom permitted his subordinates to make revelations and could 
always end any dispute by producing one of his own. 

In the early years of the Church of the Latter Day Saints there 
was little formal doctrine. Like other sects of the frontier, it was 
primitive and pentecostal in its teaching, and, like the Millerites, the 
Mormons had as their chief drawing card the belief that the world 
was whirling to a speedy destruction in which only the Saints would 
be saved. The millennium was mentioned over and over again in 
Joseph Smith's revelations, and the missionaries of the church re- 
counted in their sermons every dire portent of coming disaster, from 
crop failures and falling stars to biblical prophecies. Early Mormon 
newspapers appear always to have borne such names as the Millen- 
nial Star and the Signs of the Times. Another major tenet of early 
Mormonism was that the survivors of the day of judgment all the 
Saints were destined to inherit the earth. For them a very real and 
material paradise would be prepared. After a careful estimate of the 
tillable land of the earth and of the probable number to, be saved, 
Orson Pratt in 1852 announced that every Saint would receive for 
his own more than one hundred and fifty acres of land. 

When the early missionaries went out to preach, there were al- 
most as many gospels as there were preachers, and in their eagerness 
to acquire converts even the church leaders hurried from place to 
place, with as little organization as they had doctrine. Their tactics 
were those of the Methodist circuit riders of an earlier day circuit 
riders like Lorenzo Dow rather than Peter Cartwright and the re- 
vival meetings were choice examples of religious emotionalism and 
exhibitionism. Joseph Smith frowned upon the excesses and finally 
produced a revelation that said they were instigated by the devil; 
miracles, trances, and special visions were to be reserved for the 
Prophet and Revelator; they were not for the common herd. 

A little later Rigdon and Pratt, using The Book of Mormon and 
the accumulated revelations, got out a Book of Doctrine and Cove- 
nants that went far toward bringing order out of the doctrinal 
chaos. Evangelical work was still based on the idea of restoring the 


apostolic church and on millennialism; miracles, visions, the gift of 
tongues, and the famous revelations were retained as drawing cards; 
but a queer hodgepodge of Campbellite dogma, perfectionism, pa- 
ganism, and Oriental philosophy, with a strong admixture of sex, 
formed the body of Mormon doctrine. Only the American back- 
woods in the mid-nineteenth century could have produced such a 

The development of the planned and controlled economy of the 
later Mormon church was very slow. At first Smith seems to have 
had no ideas on the subject of church finance other than that it 
should produce a living for himself and his family, but as the work 
went on, revelation after revelation dealt with tithing, church build- 
ing, and support for the leaders. Literal interpretation of the Bible 
and emphasis upon primitive Christianity, as well as knowledge of 
communistic settlements elsewhere in the West, led to a crude at- 
tempt at a similar experiment in Kirtland. These communistic lean- 
ings were not suppressed but sublimated. The trustees of the church 
were to be also the trustees of the funds of the members, and the 
trustees of both church and funds were but the lieutenants of the 
Prophet. Newcomers were induced to turn over their assets to 
the trustees, receiving in return notes and deeds to lands owned 
by the church upon which they might build their homes. 

Smith reserved for himself such potentially lucrative posts as 
storekeeper and land agent. Later, when followers were many and 
business was good, the profits accruing to the Seer were large, but 
in the infancy of Kirtland there was little money in such undertak- 
ings. The financial expedients resorted to by the church leaders 
were of every variety; they borrowed from one firm to pay an- 
other, converts who were skilled artisans were put to work on the 
temple and other building enterprises, and occasionally a new mem- 
ber with wealth was acquired just as a mortgage fell due. But it was 
a hand-to-mouth existence, and the leaders constantly tightened 
their control over all visible assets of the faithful. 

There were many apostasies among the disillusioned, but the ef- 
forts of the missionaries brought in new converts to outnumber the 
deserters. Soon closer organization was needed. In 1835 an elaborate 
hierarchy was set up to replace the simple rule by elders and trus- 
tees. Joseph Smith was, of course, President. Sidney Rigdon and 


Hyrum Smith, brother of Joseph, were Counselors. These three 
made up the Presidency, which, with a Quorum of Twelve Apos- 
tles (including Brigham Young, the Pratt brothers, Heber Kimball, 
Orson Hyde, and William Smith) and a Quorum of Seventies, 
formed from the heads of the Seventies into which the entire church 
was divided, made up the directorate of the church. 

Thus within a half-dozen years the church had acquired several 
thousand members, a body of doctrine, an elaborate hierarchy with 
the Prophet as its dictator, and a centralized, controlled economic 
order that might be called state socialism. This close coordination of 
economic and political organization, permitting the hierarchy to 
control both the votes and the property of the members of the 
church, was at the same time one of the reasons for Mormon strength 
and the cause for the hatred and disaster the church was to meet in 
Missouri and Illinois. 


With due regard for such remarkable achievement it must be ad- 
mitted that all was not well with the church. Joseph and the Apos- 
tles were away much of the time on missionary and money-getting 
expeditions. There were innumerable jealousies and disputes among 
the leaders and violent quarrels within the Smith f amily. Accusa- 
tions of gross immorality were made against those in high places, 
and the first breath of the idea of polygamy antagonized many. 
Apostasy and schism assailed the church from within, while Mor- 
mon financial practices and the rumors of low moral standards an- 
gered their Gentile neighbors. 

Dire difficulties were soon encountered in the colony established 
in Missouri by Mormon missionaries. As the entrepot for trade to 
the West, Independence was a boom town with its full quota of 
ruffians and renegades from all parts of the Union. There was fric- 
tion from the beginning between Mormons and Gentiles and con- 
stant accusations on both sides of violence and petty thievery. The 
Mormon colony grew rapidly and acquired more and more land, 
the Mormons voted as a unit as Joseph Smith ordered, and they 
made no secret of the Prophet's promise that the whole state of 
Missouri would ultimately belong to them. Their attitude toward 
both Indians and Negroes won them the hatred of the Missourians, 


for they sent missionaries to the former and were thought to incite 
the latter to flight or insurrection. That Mormon conduct was in 
large measure the cause for their troubles was admitted by one of 
their leaders, W. W. Phelps, in 1833: "Our people fare very well, 
and, when they are discreet, little or no persecution is felt." 8 

Finally the Mormons were presented with an ultimatum de- 
manding that they settle their affairs and leave Jackson County 
"within a reasonable time." The Missourians for their part off ered 
to pay the Mormons liberally for their land and improvements. In- 
sisting that these demands were religious persecution, the Mormon 
leaders tried to get satisfaction from the courts, only to find that 
judges and juries were opposed to them. Strong in their faith, the 
Mormons continued building, brought in new settlers, and gave no 
sign of departure. Civil war broke out, and, with loud denuncia- 
tions of the persecution, the Jackson County Mormons, outnum- 
bered and outfought, moved into Clay County, where there already 
were Mormon setders. Here the story was the same, and by 1836 
they were forced to move on again, this time to Caldwell County, 
an almost unsettled area where there seemed little opposition to 
their coming. They secured large tracts of good land, founded a 
county seat called Far West, and built houses, a school, and shops. 
They elected their own town and county officials, began to pros- 
per, and in their contentment had little reason to create any disturb- 

Meanwhile the friction in Ohio was coming to a head over the 
mismanagement of Mormon business and financial affairs. There 
were no profits in the various enterprises of the church and little 
prospect of easy money anywhere in the tightening money market 
that presaged the panic of 1837. Heavily in debt and without any 
ready cash, Smith decided to resort to the West's favorite remedy, 
wildcat banking, choosing the most inauspicious time, the fall of 
1836, to launch the new enterprise. He applied to the state legisla 
ture for a charter for the Kirtland Safety Bank, for which he ex- 
pected to declare a capital of $4,000,000, to be made up by selling 
shares at fifty dollars each to the faithful Saints. When the request 
for a charter was refused by justly suspicious state authorities, Smith 
was not balked. It might be necessary to have a charter for a bank, 
but there was no such requirement for an anti-banking institution! 


So the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company was es- 
tablished with thirty-two officials, each paid a salary of a dollar per 
day. Two hundred thousand dollars worth of notes that had been 
prepared for the bank proper were salvaged for use by stamping 
Anti and ing in small letters before and after the word Bank, which 
had been engraved in much larger letters. The signatures of Smith 
and Rigdon served to give the notes prestige, and, upon church 
orders, they circulated locally at par. Abroad they were put into 
circulation by the missionaries, who vied with each other in bring- 
ing back better money in exchange. The stock of the Anti-Banking 
Company was sold to the Saints on easy terms or in exchange for 
almost worthless town lots. Although the paper value of the stock 
was supposedly $4,000,000, the actual cash resources of the bank 
amounted to about $15,000, and yet Smith assured the anxious 
Saints that "the bank is of God and cannot fail." 

More than tricks, however, was needed to convince the business 
world that the Anti-Bank was solvent. At its managers' flat refusal 
to redeem its paper in specie, creditors assailed from all sides, the 
state declared its banking laws had been violated, and Smith and 
Rigdon were arrested and held on bail. The bank was forced to 
close its doors, and the angry Saints rebelled against the leaders 
whose dupes they had been. No Gentile could exceed the violence 
or match the accusations hurled at the Prophet and the Apostles by 
the disgruntled citizens of Kirtland. Smith read them out of the 
church with vituperation equally violent. He said they had "had 
recourse to the foulest lying to hide their iniquity" and referred to 
them as "this gang of horse-thieves and drunkards." The church 
leaders turned on each other with mutual accusations of intemper- 
ance, fraud, and polygamy. Smith tried to brazen out all charges, 
but, faced with trial for mismanagement and peculation, he gave up 
the fight and fled to the Missouri colony for safety. 

Smith's own account and that of the church make much of the 
"persecutions" he suffered and mention the wild flight from armed 
pursuers who followed the Prophet for two hundred miles. There 
seems no evidence of any such pursuit but instead every indication 
that the non-Mormons and the apostates from the church were 
quite content to be rid of the discredited leaders. The scandals 
added to the panic and the bank and business failures made the 


Kirtland situation desperate, and much of the Mormon property 
passed into Gentile hands. Many of the faithful followed Smith; a 
few others clung to what property there was left in Kirtland and to 
their Mormon religion, although they were without a prophet. 
After the death of Joseph Smith they affiliated with the minority 
group that followed Smith's family rather than Brigham Young. In 
1901 the Kirtland district reported a membership of about four 

Disaster did not discourage Joseph Smith but seemed merely to 
spur him on to greater efforts and more extravagant pretensions. 
He no longer thought of himself as the humble revelator of God's 
word; overweening self-confidence led him to declare, "God is my 
right-hand man." Assuming full leadership as soon as he reached 
Missouri, he involved the peaceful Mormons there in difficulties 
that forced them out of the state in a few months. At a great Fourth 
of July celebration for both Mormons and Gentiles, he announced 
a revelation that God had ordered the Saints to buy up all the land 
around Far West. In the chief address of the day Sidney Rigdon 
bitterly recounted the persecutions the Mormons had suffered and 
announced their refusal to submit longer to oppression. 

[We] will bear it no more. Our rights shall no more be trampled on 
with impunity. The man, or set of men, who attempt it, does it at the 
expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us, it shall 
be between us and them a 'war of extermination, -for we 'will follow 
them till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to 
exterminate us. . . . Remember it then, all men. 9 

Breathing defiance against attacks that had not yet come, Smith 
and Rigdon organized their forces in the fall of 1838. A fighting 
band was formed, depredations were made on the property of 
Missourians, and retaliation was met by armed combat. Guerilla 
warfare followed between Mormon bands and state militia, the in- 
evitable result of which was another Mormon disaster. Joseph Smith 
and the Mormon leaders were arrested, and their followers were 
driven from the state to take refuge across the Mississippi. With the 
connivance of the Missouri authorities Smith escaped from custody 
in April 1839 and joined his flock in Illinois, where a new Stake in 
Zion was established. 



The demoralized and poverty-stricken Mormons welcomed their 
Prophet with unshaken confidence in his ability to solve their diffi- 
culties and lead them on to prosperity and security. The rank and 
file had always been simple, credulous* trusting people, content to 
let their leaders make all important decisions. The Prophet, now 
thirty-four years of age, was more than six feet tall, vigorous, and 
handsome. He was overflowing with self-confidence, energy, and 
good spirits, and his frequent lapses from virtue made him seem 
even more a man whom they could love and trust. His amusing pre- 
tensions to culture and learning, his vulgarity, his rowdy sense of 
humor, even his sensuality, were in tune with the rough frontier life 
they all led, and his shrewdness and organizing ability were re- 
spected. The early years in Illinois were the most successful period 
of Joseph Smith's career. 

There were few settlers in the region around the little village of 
Commerce. The riverbanks were marshy and malarial, and few en- 
vied the exiles who began to buy land early in 1839 on both sides of 
the river. Poor as they were, their arrival brought business to the 
neighborhood, and the prospect of several thousand new settlers 
filled both Whigs and Democrats with pleasurable excitement and 
some anxiety, for the balance between the two parties was close in 
southern Illinois. As the election year of 1840 drew near both 
Whigs and Democrats wooed the artful Prophet. His price was a 
charter for Nauvoo, the city the Mormons were building on the 
site of the village of Commerce a few miles from Quincy. The 
Whigs promised the charter, and the Mormons voted solidly for the 
Whig ticket, but they let it be known that they had made no pledge 
for the future. The Mormon vote aided in cutting the Democratic 
majority down to the lowest point it had reached since the establish- 
ment of the party. The warning was heeded, and at the next session 
of the legislature the charter asked by Smith was voted promptly. 
Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln both courted the Mor- 
mon vote and helped push the charter through the legislature, and 
Douglas, as lawyer and judge, was to aid Smith in many ways in the 
following years. 

The Nauvoo charter was a remarkable document. It gave almost 



unlimited powers to the mayor and aldermen, who could pass any 
law not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States; the 
mayor's court was given exclusive jurisdiction over all cases arising 
out of city ordinances; and the town was permitted to have its own 
militia, which was to bejubject only to the command of the mayor. 
A charter was granted alsoior Nauvoo University, and the Nauvoo 
House, designed as a tavern ( and a home for the mayor, was incor- 
porated. Thus an embryo stalte within a state was authorized. Joseph 
Smith, of course, becaminayor and head of the mayor's court, and 
the aldermen were his henchmen. The Nauvoo Legion was equipped 
with arms, band, and uniforms, but the university remained a paper 
institution, which, however, gave honorary degrees to politicians 
and newspaper men who spoke well of the Mormons. 

Prosperity followed the liberality of the Illinois government. A 
pottery, a brickyard, a quarry, and toolworks were established. 
There was much gayety in the new city: dances, music, athletic 
events, and a good deal of pageantry connected with the militia, 
with the church ceremonies, and with those of the newly organized 
Masonic Lodge. But lawlessness was apparent, also, and the laxity of 
the municipal court made Nauvoo a happy hunting ground for 
fugitives from justice elsewhere. The ferry across the river was 
known as Thieves' Ferry. There was a decidedly rowdy aspect to 
the little theocratic state a rowdyism not repugnant to members 
of its government. 

Mormon missionaries sent to England found a vast reservoir of 
new adherents in the poorer districts of English factory towns, 
where discontent and superstition combined to make conversion 
easy, especially when land was promised to all who would migrate. 
Dr. Charles Mackay states that ten thousand converts were made in 
the period 1838-43, and that was just a beginning. An emigration 
agency was set up in Liverpool, and a Mormon representative was 
appointed for every port. In 1849 a permanent immigrant fund es- 
tablished by the church provided aid for those too poor to pay for 
their own passage. In 1841 the population of Nauvoo was nine 
thousand; by 1845 it was estimated at fifteen thousand. The little 
river town with its unique government and its peculiar people be- 
came the mecca for many travelers, and business boomed at the 
Nauvoo House. 


All was not well, however. The state government was dissatis- 
fied, and state authorities were lukewarm to the Prophet, whose 
control over an ever increasing number of votes gave him a balance 
of power in elections. Again the arrogance and aggressiveness of the 
Mormons led to trouble with their neighbors. Feeling the constant 
menace to his power and to his people, Joseph Smith alternated be- 
tween egotistical bombast and protective measures. Perhaps the in- 
creasing tension wore on his nerves and made him less cautious and 
sensitive to public opinion. At any rate he chose this period to in- 
augurate polygamy among a chosen few of his flock. In 1843 he 
made known a revelation giving divine authorization for the prac- 
tice. Secrecy was insisted upon but was, of course, impossible to 
maintain when the wives of the Prophet increased to twenty-eight 
and several of the leaders kept pace with him. The rumor of polyg- 
amy roused non-Mormon neighbors to frenzy, and, when polygamy 
was accompanied by a complex system of marriage whereby one 
woman could be "sealed" to one husband for this life and to another 
for eternity, opposition appeared among Mormons as well. 

Within four years, therefore, of the Mormon entry into Illinois 
trouble was approaching from at least three sources: the state gov- 
ernment, the non-Mormon residents of near-by communities, and 
the dissatisfied Mormons themselves. In 1843 the Prophet's over- 
zealous bargaining with both parties before the state election caused 
the Mormons to lose all support in the legislature, and an attempt to 
annul the Nauvoo charter was defeated only by the efforts of Wil- 
liam Smith, whom the Mormon leaders had put there to safeguard 
their interests. 

About this time, too, the Mormons petitioned Congress to have a 
separate territory made of Nauvoo, and then, to cap the climax, 
Joseph Smith decided to run for the position of President of the 
United States in 1844. He had written to both Clay and Calhoun 
asking their support in collecting from the state of Missouri com- 
pensation for the losses suffered by the Mormons there. 10 Receiving 
no satisfaction from them, he drew up a platform full of panaceas 
for a wide variety of troubles. He wished to curtail the activities of 
government and to reduce the number of congressmen and cut their 
pay to two dollars a day. The prisoners in penitentiaries would be 
freed with a blessing, and deserters from the army would go unpun- 


ished if Joseph Smith became president. Slaves were to be freed 
with ample compensation for their owners. Oregon, Texas, Cali- 
fornia, Canada, and Mexico were all to be annexed, if they should 
agree to such action. The platform closed with the signature of the 
candidate as the "friend of the people and of unadulterated free- 
dom." The Mormon missionaries promptly became campaigners and 
went through the country preaching its salvation through the elec- 
tion of Joseph Smith. One may doubt that the Prophet expected 
election in 1 844, but his self -confidence and vanity were such that he 
probably saw no insuperable barrier to his reaching the presidency 
eventually. In the meantime the campaign would be good adver- 
tising, and the missionaries would get converts as well as votes. 

Affairs in Illinois, however, had reached such a crisis that only by 
the greatest circumspection and caution could Smith have avoided 
disaster. Instead, every flamboyant and reckless act of that last year 
hastened the catastrophe. All that was needed was some episode, 
some sign of weakness, to crystallize the antagonism into action. 
That episode came when Smith attempted to acquire the wife of 
one of the Nauvoo Mormons. The angry husband and his friends 
rebelled and established the Nauvoo Expositor, the first issue of 
which was published June 7, 1844. Under the slogan "The Truth, 
the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth," a complete expos6 
was made of the new doctrine of polygamy in theory and practice. 
These accusations were followed by criticism of Joseph Smith's 
political and economic policies. 

Such insubordination was met with violent action. The paper was 
suppressed, all available copies of the issue were burned, and the 
municipal council of Nauvoo took action against the proprietors in 
a trial that was a travesty of all the usual forms of justice. Thomas 
Ford, the governor of Illinois, observing with benevolent interest 
the revolt in Nauvoo, called the trial "the most curious and irregu- 
lar" one ever recorded in a civilized country, "and one finds diffi- 
culty in determining whether the proceedings of the council were 
more the result of insanity or depravity." 11 The Expositor presses 
were destroyed and the Nauvoo Legion was ordered out in readi- 
ness for trouble. 

And trouble came with great speed. The leaders of the Mormon 
revolt fled to near-by Carthage, the anti-Mormon counties called 


out their local militia, and Governor Ford came down from the 
state capital in an effort to keep within some form of legality the 
huge mob collecting to storm Nauvoo. With the state militia and its 
officers as violently anti-Mormon as the civilian mob, justice and 
order were impossible. Under promise of a fair trial, Joseph and 
Hyrum Smith were persuaded to surrender, only to be murdered, 
on June 27, in the feebly defended Carthage jail. The militia and 
the mob then descended upon Nauvoo, which surrendered after 
some show of resistance. 

For the third time in little more than a decade the hapless Saints 
were forced to make preparation for departure from their Stake in 
Zion. Time was given them to settle their aff airs, sell their property, 
and reorganize their shattered government. The Prophet's family 
broke away from the main body, repudiated polygamy on the 
grounds that Joseph had neither preached nor practiced it, and led 
a small minority of the Saints over into Iowa to create the Reorgan- 
ized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has re- 
mained small and independent for nearly one hundred years. The 
main body of the Mormons, after a bitter struggle among the lead- 
ers, agreed to accept Brigham Young as the successor to the Prophet 
and to follow him on the long journey to their permanent Zion 
beyond the mountains. A third very small faction went first to Wis- 
consin and then to a group of islands in Lake Michigan with James 
Jesse Strang, one of the most eccentric of all those who claimed the 
mantle of Joseph Smith. Ignorant, poor, and credulous, these people 
conceded complete dictatorship to Strang, accepting polygamy, 
communism, and eventually even his claim to be their king. The 
Kingdom of Saint James was short-lived, for again the angry non- 
Mormon neighbors attacked the Saints, and the twenty-five hun- 
dred subjects of a murdered monarch were dispersed. 12 

After much suffering the main body of the Mormons reached 
the region of the great Salt Lake, where they founded their State 
of Deseret outside the boundaries of the United States. Within a 
few years the Mexican War was to bring them back under the gov- 
ernment they had hoped to escape, but their isolation was so com- 
plete that for many years they were left in peace to develop under 
the dictation of Brigham Young, the "Old Boss." Their numbers 
grew from 6,000 to 200,000 in thirty years, and their wealth in- 


creased in proportion. Polygamy provided a cheap labor supply 
well adapted for the patriarchal development of an agrarian com- 
munity, and their views on the position of women ensured them 
adequate and docile domestic service. The isolation of Salt Lake 
made apostasy difficult, and the firm control of Brigham Young kept 
the rank and file subservient. If there were any dissatisfied they had 
to remain to share the blessings, or to be exploited for the greater 
glory, of the new Zion. 


Religious Communism in America 

Freedom to practice the articles of their faith, no matter how pe- 
culiar they might be, coupled with the possibility of economic se- 
curity in a country where land was cheap and plentiful, turned the 
leaders of many European cults to America. Believing they had dis- 
covered a new, exclusive, and unique pathway to salvation and to 
the world's redemption, the adherents of many of these sects 
wished to build new homes away from the contaminating influence 
of older faiths where there could be no contact with the corrupting 
and diverting aspects of modern civilization. The frontier offered 
land, livelihood, and solitude to both European and American re- 
ligious experiments. 


The leaders of these new sects emphasized their separateness and 
the need for the close association of all members. The more peculiar 
the tenets of their faith, the more necessary became the intensive 
instruction, criticism, and supervision that communty living could 
make possible. Revivalists found themselves constantly faced with 
the problem of backsliding; apostasy was the bugbear of all new 
sects. Isolation and segregation into unitary communities were 
found to be more effective counteragents than the Methodists* pro- 
tracted meetings. 

To this basic reason for religious communism may be added an- 
other equally practical in nature. Both in Europe and in America by 
far the larger number of converts to new pietistic creeds were poor 
men and women who brought with them only the potential value 
of their capacity to work. Without capital and without influence, 
they were defenseless against the antagonism of accepted faiths, es- 
tablished churches, and arbitrary governments. Migration to a new 
land, or removal from well-settled areas to the frontier, required 
considerable capital expenditure. The funds of the few well-to-do 
converts must be used to pay for the transfer of the many whose 
contributions could be slight. Emigration expenditures and land 
purchases were, therefore, communal enterprises conducted by the 
leaders as agents or trustees. The indigent, the aged, and the weak 

1 08 


were from the beginning a charge upon those who were more for- 
tunate or more provident. Land once purchased and a new life once 
established, it was difficult to get rid of that burden and to make 
any arrangement for the return to individual ownership. Many sects 
not originally communistic thus had communism thrust upon them 
for social and economic reasons. 

This communism, adopted through necessity, often became an 
end in itself, for which religious sanctions were found. The leaders 
of the sect soon discovered that it made more complete the separate- 
ness they thought essential and infinitely increased their ability to 
control the rank and file. There were decided advantages in the 
planned economy of cooperative enterprise. If well managed and 
carefully supervised, the religious community soon became a going 
concern with rapidly increasing assets. For many members security 
and plenty were prized above independence and the opportunity 
for individual gain. The few who were irked by rigid economic 
controls were apt also to resent the spiritual dictation of the lead- 
ers, and in the eyes of the governing body of the sect these inde- 
pendent thinkers might well be dispensed with. Whether or not 
such seceders should receive a share of the joint assets of the com- 
munity was a difficult problem, solved in various ways by different 

Almost all the early sects that adopted a communal way of life 
were pietistic in faith, basing their belief upon a literal interpreta- 
tion of biblical teaching. They rejected all existing hierarchies and 
dogmas and found in the Bible all they needed in the way of the- 
ology and guidance. The primitive Christian church became their 
model, and they rejected all the structures that had been erected 
upon that foundation since the beginning of the Christian era. In- 
tensive and prolonged reading of the Bible gave to the leaders of 
each sect support for the religious principles peculiar to it, and it 
was easy for the close student of primitive Qiristianity to find au- 
thorization for religious communism. When necessity began, and 
expediency prolonged, community of property rights, dogma soon 
provided the sanction of religion. 

These religious communities were never very numerous, nor was 
the total number of adherents great. Some of them were short- 
lived, some lasted a century or more. One of the oldest, the Shaker 


Society, still has a few adherents after one hundred and sixty years. 
They antedate modern socialism but have little in common with 
even its earlier Utopian aspects. Although many of the sects were 
of European origin and most of their members were immigrants, 
the communities themselves were peculiarly American and could 
have operated only in the atmosphere of American freedom and 
tolerance for experimentation.* 

Whatever the country of their origin, finding their common in- 
spiration in the Bible, they developed, as they grew in American 
soil, many similarities in belief. They were all perfectionist in that 
they sought to build for themselves an ideal or perfect way of life. 
They were in large degree millennialists, since they accepted in 
some form the New Testament teaching in regard to the second 
coming of Christ. Some of them were avowedly spiritualistic; all of 
them had periods of confidence in miracles. They were also alike in 
that they were almost entirely composed of a poor, ill-educated, 
credulous, and trusting rank and file, obedient to and dependent 
upon a strict and autocratic leader or leaders. The few notable ex- 
ceptions to this generalization were communities organized some- 
what late in the period and only in the broadest sense religious, 
since their major objectives were social. Such experiments in living 
as Noyes's Oneida Community, Alcott's Fruitlands, and the Trans- 
cendentalists' Brook Farm defy generalization and classification, but 
they serve to make the transition from religious communism to 
nineteenth-century socialistic theory. 

Similar in some respects though they were, it is the infinite diver- 
sity of the religious sects that makes them interesting. Each was 
allowed to work out its own destiny almost without interference in 
an America that had room for many and varied faiths and no great 
antipathy to eccentricity. During the century of the late colonial 

* In his American Socialisms John Humphrey Noyes asserts that the communi- 
ties were the result of revivalism and socialism but makes the error of stating that 
the revivals were purely American while the socialism was an importation from 
Europe. He overlooks the fact that many of the sects originated in the pietistic 
revivals that marked the return of emotional faith in Europe after the French 
Revolution. He also fails to emphasize that with many sects communism was 
adopted only through necessity and found a purely biblical justification through 
leaders who had never heard of Fourier or socialism. It is, however, interesting to 
note that the four standard texts on the subject of both religious and socialistic 
communities were all published between 1870 and 1903, when American interest in 
modern socialism was being aroused. 1 


and early national period many religious sects found in community 
of goods the solution for their economic and social problems. One 
or two of them were established in the colonial period, two or three 
during or after the Revolution, the rest in the early decades of the 
nineteenth century. Of the sects selected for special analysis here, 
the settlement of German pietists at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, was the 
first chronologically, but it was not the first religious community in 
America. In 1680 a group of Protestant mystics established in north- 
ern Maryland the Lobadist Community, which, although short- 
lived, owned at one time 4,000 acres of land. Also, in 1694 the 
Community of the Woman in the Wilderness was founded in Penn- 


During the period of great German migration to Pennsylvania, 
a young man named Conrad Beissel fled from religious persecution 
in the Palatinate and found his way to Lancaster County, Pennsyl- 
vania. 2 He had apparently hoped to join a group of pietists that had 
established a community on the Wissahickon River a generation 
earlier, but he found that the community was no longer in existence. 
In 1724 he joined the Dunkers, a very pious German Mennonite 
sect, Baptist or Anabaptist in dogma. Living a solitary life devoted 
to the study of the Bible and the obligation it placed upon the indi- 
vidual Christian, he became convinced that the seventh instead of 
the first day of the week should be observed as a day of worship 
and published a book to prove his thesis. The Dunkers repudiated 
his teaching, but a few followers came to live near his wilderness 
retreat. In two or three decades the new sect numbered about three 

Simplicity was the keynote of the little settlement that chose the 
name Ephrata. There was -no written constitution and no binding 
contract, no ritual and no exalted ministry, although the two sacra- 
ments of baptism and communion were kept. The New Testament 
was both the confession of faith and the guide for government. The 
Ephratists denied the doctrine of original sin as well as that of eter- 
nal punishment. They refused to countenance violence of any kind, 
were opposed to all war, and even refused to be parties to litigation. 

Celibacy was considered desirable but was not required. In the 
earlier years, however, most of the membership was undoubtedly 


celibate and very ascetic in mode of life. The celibate groups lived 
apart in almost complete seclusion. A Sister House was built for the 
women, who were organized into the Sisterhood of the Roses of 
Sharon or Spiritual Virgins, and a similar Brother House was pro- 
vided for the tonsured, bearded brotherhood. The life in these celi- 
bate orders was rigorous, the day's program leaving no time for 
levity, gossip, or idleness. The day began at five in the morning. 
Matins and a song service came before six; then there was work 
until nine, when breakfast was served. From nine-thirty to five the 
community labored, meeting again for a simple meal at the end of 
the day. The hours from seven to nine in the evening were to be 
spent in reading and study. Retiring at nine, the communities met 
again at midnight for another service, making in all four periods of 
worship each day. The two orders dressed alike in white robes of 
homespun wool or linen. They were vegetarian by principle, and 
their houses were furnished with a minimum of comfort. 

Besides these celibate groups there was the "outdoor" member- 
ship, probably larger in number, made up of the married folk who 
lived as families .near the houses of the cloistered orders. Since a 
period of probation was required of the candidates for the orders, 
and since no vows were required, there was doubtless some fluctua- 
tion in the make-up of cloistered and outdoor groups. If a sister or 
brother decided to marry and leave the celibate house, a place was 
made for a new family among the outdoor members, whose lives 
were less restricted. Nearly all seceders from the celibate groups 
settled near by and sent their children to be educated by the broth- 
ers or sisters of the cloistered orders. After about 1750, when prob- 
ably a majority of the members were celibate, the two orders 
gradually decreased in membership and the emphasis upon celibacy 
declined. Sister Beverly, the last of the Order of the Roses of 
Sharon, died at the age of eighty in 1852. 

In the matter of communal property, too, there seems to have 
been no hard and fast rule. In the days when the larger number of 
the society lived in the Brother and Sister houses all land given to 
or purchased by them was held in common, as were the products of 
their labor. But no one was required to surrender his individual pos- 
sessions, and there was no communism for outdoor members. 

At the height of the society's prosperity paper, oil, and flour 



mills, a tannery, and a pottery were in operation. There was a com- 
munal bakery, a print shop where Mennonite hymnals and tracts 
were printed, and a community schoolhouse. The chief occupation 
of the community was farming, and its wheat, wool, vineyards, and 
garden plots more than supplied the members with the necessities of 
life. Believing firmly that poverty rather than wealth was conducive 
to pious living, Beissel never desired riches for his followers. In- 
deed, when Governor Penn offered him five thousand acres of land, 
he refused it because "it would be injurious to their spiritual life to 
accumulate much property." Nevertheless, ample land, hard work, 
and simple living brought the Ephratists a measure of material pros- 
perity, and the members lived in such comfort as their asceticism 

The Ephratists' buildings, erected in the middle of the eighteenth 
century, bore witness for more than a hundred years to their pros- 
perity and to their singular ideas. The Sister House and the Saal, or 
church, were great, steep-roofed, three-story structures with their 
walls shingled to the ground. Built by men well versed in biblical 
lore, they were, like Solomon's temple, without spikes or nails. 
Even the laths used to hold the plaster in place were fitted into 
grooves in the great timbers of the house. Wooden pegs were used 
in all building and all construction of furniture. The sect's antipathy 
for metals was seen, too, in the use of wooden candlesticks, plates, 
and eating utensils in the love feasts that formed a part of their 
religious services. 

Quiet and peace-loving, the Ephratists had little difficulty with 
their neighbors. Their adherence to the seventh day doctrine caused 
some trouble with the authorities, and, because of their nonresist- 
ance principles, they might have been accused of lack of patriotism 
during the Revolution if their aid to the sick and wounded of 
Washington's army had not been so well known. Throughout their 
history their charity was freely extended to the needy of all faiths 
who came to them for assistance. 

In the days of their greatest strength the Ephratists sent out mis- 
sionaries and established two or three branch communities, all, like 
the parent group, having the simplest of organizations. Ministers 
were ordained by laying on of hands and were unpaid, working 
with the other members of the society and receiving such voluntary 


assistance as might be necessary to give them freedom for church 
work. Sermons were simple and inspirational in character. Although 
musical instruments were not favored, choir and community sing- 
ing was highly developed, and the Ephrata hymnals and part singing 
were famous in their time. Education was considered important. 
The Sunday school, founded in 1740, was the first of its kind in 
England or America. The Ephrata Academy was known through- 
out Pennsylvania and attracted a few pupils from Philadelphia and 

When Conrad Beissel died in 1786, the years of growth were over 
for Ephrata. Its members were long-lived, however, and its prop- 
erty was considerable; decline it might, but its demise was slow in 
coming. In 1812 the society was incorporated, and its affairs were 
put in the hands of three elected trustees. In 1900 seventeen mem- 
bers, all elderly people, were the heirs to the traditions of Eph- 
rata and to its greatly diminished property. No new members had 
been admitted for some time, and there was no prospect of any for 
the future. The little village was a shadow of its past; the vitality 
of its religious faith and "of its communal life belonged to an era 
long since forgotten. 


Jemima Wilkinson and the religious sect she founded differed in 
almost every respect from the community at Ephrata. Born in 1752, 
Jemima was the daughter of Jeremiah Wilkinson, a prosperous 
Rhode Island farmer who was at one time a member of the colony 
council. The mother, a Quakeress, died when Jemima, the eighth of 
twelve children, was a small child. Brought up in a motherless 
household, the girl was willful, headstrong, and romantic. All the 
contemporary accounts seem to agree as to her beauty and the 
forcefulness of her personality. As a young girl she seems to have 
wanted chiefly pretty clothes and a good time. Her father sent her 
to learn the trade of a tailoress, but she found living under authority 
uncongenial and soon came back home. 

When she was sixteen a revival in the neighborhood turned her 
attention to religion. She became interested in, although she never 
openly joined, the New Light Baptists, a pietistic separatist sect with 
extremely evangelical teachings. In the same period Jemima was 


probably influenced by the teachings of Mother Ann Lee, the 
founder of the Shaker church. Jemima became more and more 
moody and temperamental, spending much time in reading the Bible 
and in solitary meditation on religious matters. Her health was im- 
paired, and in 1776 she spent some months in bed, suffering frequent 
bouts of some sort of fever. Ill and unhappy, she had visions, dreams, 
and visitations, culminating in a trance that lasted for thirty-six 
hours. This prolonged trance furnished the rather slight basis for 
the story, given much credence later, that she was at this time pro- 
nounced dead and that during the funeral rites she rose from her 
coffin to assure the assembled friends and relatives that she had died 
and was now risen from the dead. 8 

Whatever the nature of her illness and of this trance, there was a 
sharp turn for the better immediately after this experience, and 
Jemima was soon well and strong. She herself seems to have been 
convinced that there was something miraculous about her recovery 
and always maintained that she had died during the trance and that 
her soul had gone to heaven. Her body, she believed, had been re- 
animated by a spirit, perhaps that of Christ himself, sent to make 
God's will known to man once more. From that day she refused to 
be known as Jemima, claiming instead the title of the Universal 

Since the purpose of this "Spirit of Life" that had occupied her 
body was to instruct the world in the way to salvation, Jemima, or 
the Friend, began to hold open-air meetings of a revivalistic nature. 
The powers she claimed for her new personality were those of 
prophecy, revelation, and healing. It seems impossible that this was 
barefaced and deliberate imposture. It is much more probable that 
Jemima, like other founders of new faiths, had first deluded herself 
and was quite sincere in the belief that her body was now the 
"tabernacle," as she called it, of the Holy Spirit. Unless one is will- 
ing to grant the sincerity of her belief that she had been chosen as 
an instrument for the redemption of the world, it is difficult to ex- 
plain the reception of her claims in die following years. The clue to 
her appeal must lie in the magnetism and attractiveness of her per- 
sonality. All accounts mention her beauty, her tall, graceful figure, 
her excellent manners, and her hypnotic eyes. 

The religious doctrines preached by the Friend were a composite 


of many current in her day. Her sermons were filled with the mes- 
sage of universal love and universal peace the message of her 
Quaker ancestors given to a people in the throes of the Revolution. 
Millennialism came into her teaching, for she believed that the spirit 
that had reanimated her dead body would remain a thousand years 
and then "be swept to Heaven in a cloud of glory." She believed 
that Saturday was the biblical Sabbath, but was willing to calm local 
prejudice by accepting Sunday as a rest day and holiday thus rec- 
ommending a five-day week! The Friend advocated celibacy, but at 
first there was apparently no mention of communism; her ideas in 
regard to social and economic matters seem to have developed as 
specific problems confronted her. 

The meetings of the Universal Friend were well attended from 
the first. When her followers numbered about twenty, she went 
with them on horseback on a tour through southern New England. 
Dressed in flowing robes, Jemima rode ahead of the cavalcade, stop- 
ping to preach wherever an audience gathered. Converts were many 
and not all from the poor and oppressed. Many substantial Yankee 
farmers accepted the teachings of the Friend, and several educated ' 
and wealthy citizens of New England and Pennsylvania gave her 
their allegiance and much of their property. Governor Hopkins of 
Rhode Island listened to her with favor, and John Babcock, a friend 
of Washington, became a follower. William Potter, who was twice 
chief justice of the court of common pleas, was one of her most de- 
voted adherents. She made her home in his household for six years. 
James Parker, a man of wealth and influence, financed much of her 
work in its earlier years. In 1782 the Friend went to Philadelphia, 
where she was favorably received by the Quakers, who placed a 
meetinghouse at her disposal. She gained a number of followers 
there, and in Worcester, Pennsylvania, she made enough converts 
to warrant establishing a sort of branch church. 

About this time the idea of removal to the frontier began to ap- 
peal to Jemima and her friends. In addition to the usual motives for 
such a move, there were others more personal. Jemima had got into 
difficulties in both Rhode Island and Pennsylvania because of her 
teachings in regard to celibacy and the subordination of family af- 
fairs to religious matters. The extravagance of the converts, who 
claimed that the Friend was Jesus come to earth again, added to the 


difficulties of the new sect. Repudiated by the Quakers, Jemima lost 
many of her Pennsylvania converts. New England churches were 
roused against her, and she was derided in their pulpits. There were 
also charges of the misuse of funds and of rapacity in demands for 
contributions. Irate husbands, whose wives followed Jemima's ad- 
vice and denied them conjugal rights, added to the furor against her. 

Faced with these difficulties, Jemima sought a revelation as to the 
future and announced that she had been commanded to "go into a 
strange country, and to a people of strange language; but fear not, 
for lo! the angel of His presence shall go with thee; He shall lead 
thee, and the Shekirah shall be thy reward." 4 With this project in 
view, and perhaps with other motives as well, the Friend advocated 
the pooling of resources in a common stock in the control of men 
who would act in accordance with her instructions. 

Western New York was just opening up to settlement in those 
days, and it was to Genesee County that twenty-five of the Friend's 
disciples went in 1788 to secure land and prepare the way for the 
rest of the faithful. Near Seneca Lake, with the Seneca Indians for 
neighbors, the New Jerusalem was established. Between two and 
three hundred settlers followed the Friend to the new home in the 
wilderness, and the process of clearing and tilling the land was 
quickly under way. More than fifteen thousand acres of land were 
purchased, the members of the sect contributing to the price in pro- 
portion to their means and making Jemima trustee for the whole 

In this New Jerusalem a suitable house was built for the Friend, 
and a large tract of land was set aside for her support. Voluntary 
contributions of livestock and labor soon brought her land under 
cultivation so that she and the "sisterhood" of her household could 
live in comfort. Jemima established good relations with the Indians, 
and there were no other near neighbors to cause her difficulty. The 
first decade after the settlement in New York was the most prosper- 
ous and peaceful period in the history of the Society of the Uni- 
versal .Friend. Jemima,, too, throve; her people were contented, no 
one disputed her authority, and life was decidedly satisfactory. 

There are several contemporary descriptions of the Friend and 
her colony written by travelers who visited the New Jerusalem. 
They all mention her peculiar but luxurious dress, the marking 17.F. 


on her furniture, and her handsome carriage with its doors labeled 
Universal Friend. The Due de la Rochefoucauld Liancourt pub- 
lished in 1799 a travel account that contained a dozen pages telling 
of his visit to the society. 5 He attended a meeting in Jemima's house, 
which he found simple but "far from the cell of a nun." The meet- 
ing, he said, was made up of about thirty persons men, women, 
and children. 

Jemima stood at the door of her bed-chamber pn a carpet, with an arm- 
chair behind her. She had on a white morning gown, and waistcoat, 
such as men wear, and a petticoat of the same color. Her black hair was 
cut short, carefully combed, and divided behind into three ringlets; she 
wore a stock, and a white silk cravat, which was tied about her neck 
with affected negligence. In point of delivery, she preached with more 
ease than any other Quaker I have yet heard; but the subject matter of 
her discourse was an eternal repetition of the same topics, death, sin, and 
repentance. She is said to be about forty years of age, but she did not 
appear to be more than thirty. She is of middle stature, well made, of a 
florid countenance, and has fine teeth, and beautiful eyes. Her action is 
studied; she aims at simplicity, but there is something pedantic in her 

After a bountiful dinner provided by the Friend for the entire as- 
semblage, although she herself retired and ate in solitude, the French 
traveler departed, evidently far from convinced of the validity of 
her claims. After repeating, with no attempt at proof, much of the 
ill-natured gossip he had heard in regard to Jemima's morals, he 
wound up die account of his visit with the remark: 

We had indeed already seen more than enough to estimate the char- 
acter of this bad actress, whose pretended sanctity only inspired us with 
contempt and disgust, and who 'is altogether incapable of imposing upon 
any person of common understanding, unless those of the most simple 
minds, or down right enthusiasts. Her speeches are so strongly contra- 
dicted by the tenor of her actions; her whole conduct, her expence, 
compared with that of other families, within a circumference of fifty 
miles, her way of living and her dress, form such a striking contrast 
with her harangues on the subject of contemning earthly enjoyments; 
and the extreme assiduity, with which she is continually endeavouring 
to induce children, over whom she has any influence, to leave their par- 
ents and form a part of her community; all these particulars so strongly 
militate against the doctrines of peace and universal love, which she is 
incessantly preaching, that we were actually struck with abhorrence of 
her duplicity and hypocrisy, as soon as ... our curiosity subsided. 


Other contemporaries were not so harsh in their judgment. A 
writer in Taifs Magazine, after commenting on the impressiveness 
of Jemima's appearance, wrote, "The tout ensemble, or entire per- 
son of Jemima Wilkinson, taken with her carriage, manners, and 
dress, would impress the beholder with strong intellect, decision of 
character, deep sincerity, and passionate devotion." 6 In his History 
of Yates County, New York, published in 1848, S. C. Cleveland re- 
viewed all the evidence to be found about the Universal Friend. He 
came to the conclusion that she was sincere and lived an honest and 
consistent moral life. She was, he said, well-read, a profound student 
of the Bible, and an advocate of pure and upright living. He denied 
that she had claimed the power to perform miracles or to be a 
second Messiah and stated that any such claims made by her fol- 
lowers were not authorized by her. 

These differences of opinion on the part of outside observers 
were reflected in the dissension among the Friend's own followers. 
Perhaps too many of them were well educated and independent, 
perhaps Jemima grew too dictatorial in her treatment of the rank 
and file, perhaps the economic interests of individuals and commu- 
nity clashed. Whatever the reason, there were quarrels, lawsuits, 
and withdrawals. Both James Parker and William Potter seceded and 
sued for a share of the property commensurate to their contribu- 
tions. They had the Friend arrested for blasphemy, and both cases 
came before the state courts. The society had never been incorpo- 
rated, and Jemima's trusteeship was questioned by other claimants, so 
that the affairs of the New Jerusalem were constantly in court. The 
Friend was acquitted on the blasphemy charge and was upheld in 
her claim to be the sole trustee of the society, but the litigation over 
property rights did not end until some years after her death. 

Despite the withdrawal of some of its leading members the little 
community held together until the Friend's death in 1819. Some 
seventy-five men with their families and more than one hundred 
women, many of them celibate, constituted the faithful, who had 
been taught to believe that the spirit which had long ago entered the 
body of Jemima Wilkinson could not die. The Friend herself seems 
to have believed this, and there was much alarm when the "taber- 
nacle" grew so seriously ill that the approach of death was recog- 
nized. When the life of the Friend came to an end, her body was 


kept for four days in the hope of a miracle and was then walled into 
a part of the cellar until it could be secretly buried. Only the de- 
scendants of those who participated in that burial know to this day 
where in that lovely valley the body of the Universal Friend came 
to its final rest. Her estate was left to two of the "sisterhood," who 
were charged with the guardianship of the poor. The Friend had 
no successor; her followers were released by her death from any 
allegiance to the sect, for there had never been any bond except her 
personality. All property other than her estate was theirs, to be used 
as they chose, and a few of their descendants still live within the 
confines of that New Jerusalem that was built one hundred and 
fifty years ago. 


Toward the end of the eighteenth century a group of German 
pietists in Wiirttemburg led a revolt against the indifference and 
rationalism that had crept into the Lutheran church. At first they 
hoped to carry on a reform movement within the church, and the 
preaching of their greatest intellectual leader, Michael Hahn, was 
directed toward that end. They won the hatred of the clergy, how- 
ever, and found themselves in bad repute with the state. Hahn and 
the timid gave way in the persecution that followed, but the bolder 
pietists turned separatist and declared their willingness to follow 
their leader, George Rapp, a farmer and vine grower, to America. 

The doctrines of the group, as developed in the struggle with the 
state church, were similar to those of the Shakers. They, too, found 
justification for celibacy in the first chapter of Genesis, although they 
did not formally adopt it until 1807. They were millennia.] ists, and 
Rapp often said that he lived only to present his followers to God. 7 
ThrougHout their history the Rappites kept their affairs in order so 
that they might at any time undertake the journey to the "land of 
Israel." When it became necessary to pool their assets in order to 
migrate and to purchase the land for their new homes, they adopted 
communism and later found scriptural sanction for it. They refused 
to believe in eternal punishment and were inclined to Universalist 
doctrines in regard to the life after death. 

In 1803 George Rapp and his son came to the United States to 
prepare for the migration of the group. They purchased five thou- 


sand acres of land in western Pennsylvania and sent for their fol- 
lowers, who arrived six hundred strong in the next year. The Rapps 
were wise leaders, and the German peasants were industrious and 
obedient. They cleared their lands and built their homes with alac- 
rity and seem to have prospered from the beginning. In 1805 a 
"Community of Equality" was formally established. All cash, land, 
and chattels were given to the community to be administered by 
the superintendents appointed by Rapp for that purpose. In 1807 
the Rappites decided upon formal renunciation of marriage, all mar- 
ried couples separated, and no further marriages were allowed.* 
From that time on recruitment was almost entirely by new immi- 
gration from Germany. Rapp had no missionary or proselyting zeal, 
and the language barrier kept out English-speaking people. 

Agriculture was, of course, the main economic basis of the so- 
ciety, although they soon built a tannery, mills, a woolen factory, 
and a distillery. By 1810 they had two thousand acres under cultiva- 
tion. Again cooperation, able direction, and mass production brought 
good returns from the fertile soil, so that five years after their ar- 
rival in America a visitor said of them: 

. . . we were struck with surprise and admiration at the astonishing 
progress in improvements and the establishment of manufactories which 
this little republic has made in five years. They have done more sub- 
stantial good in the short period of five years than the same number of 
families, scattered about the country could have done in fifty. This 
arises from their unity and fraternal love, added to their uniform and 
persevering industry. 8 

The colony was, however, twelve miles from navigation, and the 
river was the only decent road to markets. The land, too, did not 
suit them, for it was not adaptable to vine and fruit culture. So in 
1815 the Pennsylvania land was sold for one hundred thousand dol- 
lars, and the whole community now numbering eight hundred 
went down the Ohio in boats to build a new home on a tract of 
land just above the mouth of the Wabash River. Here, in a new vil- 
lage called Harmony, they repeated their achievements in clearing 
the land and establishing their industries. Again in a five-year period 
they brought three thousand acres under cultivation and caused 

* According to John Duss, The Harmonists: A Personal History (1943), the pro- 
hibition on marriage was not strictly enforced. Some couples continued to have 
children -much to Rapp's disgust. 


envy and surprise to their Hoosier neighbors. Many of their build- 
ings are still standing to testify to the excellence of the materials and 
workmanship that made them. 

The Harmonists kept few records; much of what is known about 
them is taken from the accounts of travelers. John Woods, an Eng- 
lishman who visited .them in this period, wrote enthusiastically of 
their industrial achievements and said their property was worth a 
million dollars. He mentioned their terraced vineyards, their beauti- 
fully matched teams of horses, and their fat milch cows. 9 George 
Flower, a resident of the English Prairie across the river in the Illi- 
nois territory, said the contrast between the Rappite village and or- 
dinary frontier settlements was great. A poor frontiersman who 
brought his grain to the Harmony mill to be ground told Flower, 
"I studies and I studies on it" as the Englishman himself seems to 
have done. 10 

Alone among American communities, so far as is known, the 
Harmony settlement was a subject for poetic comment by a famous 
Englishman. In Canto XV of Don Juan Byron wrote, 

When Rapp the Harmonist embargoed Marriage 
In his harmonious settlement which flourishes 

Strangely enough as yet without miscarriage, 
Because it breeds no more mouths than it nourishes, 

Without those sad expenses which disparage what 

Nature most encourages 
Why calTd he 'Harmony' a state sans wedlock? 

Now here I've got the preacher at a dead lock, 

Because he either meant to sneer at Harmony 
Or Marriage, by divorcing them thus oddly. 

But whether reverend Rapp learn'd this in Germany 
Or not, 'tis said his sect is rich and godly, 

Pious and pure, beyond what I can term any 
Of ours . . . 

Rapp's dictatorship was emphasized by another famous Englishman, 
Morris Birkbeck, who wrote in his diary in 1817 an account of a 
visit to the Indiana settlement. Success there, he said, was due to 
the "association of numbers in application of good capital," but he 
could not fully approve, for "a slavish acquiescence, under a disgust- 
ing superstition, is so remarkable an ingredient in their character 
that it checks all desire of imitation." " 


Life at Harmony was similar to that in other religious communi- 
ties in many ways. The day's routine roused the settlers at five and 
put them to bed at nine. In accordance with German custom men 
and women both worked in the fields and vineyards, and they 
marched to work and home again to the music of their German 
band. They had five meals during their long day, and although they 
were not vegetarians, they abstained from pork. Flowers they loved, 
and they grew them for pleasure rather than for their medicinal 
value, placing bouquets even 0131 the machines in their factories. Just 
outside the village they built a labyrinth of vines and shrubs around 
a summerhouse that was crude and rough outside but beautifully 
finished within, as a symbol of their belief that toil and suffering in 
this world are preludes to the joy and beauty of the future life. 

Rappite church services were simple. George Rapp preached, 
and to him confession was made by all who desired admission to the 
colony. No quarrel was allowed to go overnight unsettled, and 
everyone who had sinned confessed to Rapp before sleeping. It was 
a patriarchal church, and its pastor looked the part he had created 
for himself. More than six feet tall, he was kindly, cheerful, and 
much beloved. Undisputed head of his colony, he worked with and 
through a cabinet or committee chosen from the community, dele- 
gating to his able son Frederick all business matters of the society. 

After ten years in Indiana Rapp again grew restless. He appar- 
ently thought better markets could be obtained nearer Pittsburgh 
and perhaps was influenced by a feeling that life was too easy on 
the Wabash and that his flock was more closely held together and 
more completely under his sway when the going was more difficult. 
Whatever the reason, he gave Richard Flower, who was leaving the 
English Prairie for a visit to England, a commission to sell the entire 
property. Flower went to New Lanark in Scotland and laid the 
whole project before Robert Owen, who was looking for a site for 
the establishment of a socialist community. The famous philan- 
thropist was struck by the advantages of securing a location so ad- 
mirably prepared for his experiment and soon closed the bargain, 
agreeing to pay one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for all the 
Rappite properties a great loss if Woods's estimate of a million 
dollars as their value was at all correct. 

Once more the colonists followed Rapp to a new home in the 


wilderness; this time to land on the Ohio eighteen miles from Pitts- 
burgh, where they built a village that they called Economy. Again 
they went through the process of planting their fields and establish- 
ing their industries, and this time Rapp was willing to settle down. 

In 1831 the community fell into grave difficulty when a charla- 
tan and troublemaker came to them with high recommendations 
from Germany. This man, who called himself Count Maximilian de 
Leon but whose real name was Bernhard Miiller, sowed dissension 
in Rapp's quiet garden. Advocating marriage and the enjoyment 
of the pleasures and luxuries to which their means entitled them, he 
persuaded a minority of more than two hundred to secede from 
Rapp's authority. The seceders won a grant of one hundred thou- 
sand dollars as their share of the common funds and withdrew to 
build themselves a village ten miles from the mother colony. Under 
De Leon's guidance, they brought suit for additional grants and 
caused trouble in other ways for several years. The courts decided 
in Rapp's favor, however, and after mulcting his dupes of most of 
their funds, Miiller left them for other fields. Disillusioned, some 
drifted back to Economy, others sought land and homes for them- 
selves elsewhere, and a few formed the nucleus for a new commu- 
nity in Missouri under the leadership of a certain William Keil. 

After George Rapp died in 1847, his work was carried on by 
trustees, but no one could be said to have succeeded him. He had 
been too completely "the supreme arbiter in all questions that arose. 
His word was law. It was enough to know that Tather Rapp says 
it' to satisfy all the community on any subject whatever." 12 The 
community grew steadily smaller; in 1866 there were two hundred 
and fifty members left, all growing old. Rappite property was esti- 
mated in 1870 to be worth about twenty million dollars. This was 
doubtless greatly in excess of its 'actual value, and it is certain that 
decline was rapid as the energy of the colony lessened and it failed 
to keep pace with the machine age. In 1900 there were but a half- 
dozen members living, and the affairs of the society were wound up 
in 1905 by authority of the United States Supreme Court. 


The Rappites indirectly contributed to the development of two 
other communities somewhat like their own. Born in Prussia in 


1812, William Keil, the leader of the two, came to the United States 
as a young man and set up a tailor shop in New York. Perhaps the 
panic of 1837 made him feel that he could not make a success of 
life there. At any rate, the year 1838 found him in Pittsburgh prac- 
ticing medicine, although without training or license, and listening 
to revival services in the German Methodist church. He was con- 
verted and soon expressed a desire to be a preacher, probably of the 
frontier circuit-riding variety, for he had had no education or pre- 
vious training for the ministry. He did acquire a license to act as 
local or lay preacher, but, irked by the Methodists' slowness in giv- 
ing him advancement, he left the church altogether, taking with 
him the congregation of the little Deer Creek church over which he 
had been placed. 

There was no other local sect that Keil wished to join. Either his 
desire to control his own group or his rapidly developing ideas on 
doctrine made a new faith the only solution for his problem. In any 
event, by 1840 he claimed to have reverted to literal Bible teaching, 
repudiated aU religious sects, and sent out some of his faithful fol- 
lowers as missionaries to acquire converts. The reception given 
them varied. Sometimes they won adherents; occasionally rotten 
eggs and other missiles were hurled at them. 

At this juncture, when the movement might easily have died out, 
Keil met a group of the Rappite seceders who had just been de- 
serted by the pseudo Count de Leon. They accepted Keil as their 
leader and brought to him much in the way of doctrine and social 
and economic ideas. He took over George Rapp's practice of hear- 
ing confessions and adopted his theories on the communal life, 
rejecting, however, the idea of celibacy. He also rejected the sacra- 
ments of baptism, confirmation, and communion. The Bible, Keil 
announced, was the foundation of his faith and the Golden Rule its 
only motto or creed. Marriage was a civil ceremony performed by 
a justice of the peace. There were few religious holidays or feast 
days. The Rappite seceders, although simple German peasants, had 
been under the tutelage of an able leader for twenty years; nearly 
all of them knew at least one trade, and they sincerely desired the 
type of life to which they had been accustomed. Under Keil's di- 
rection they were willing to work for a communal society such as 
they had had under George Rapp. 


Penniless as they were, it was obvious that they should move 
west to cheap lands, and a site was chosen in Shelby County, Mis- 
souri, not far from the Mississippi River and very near the area 
from which the Mormons had so recently been expelled. Land was 
acquired until the total holding was more than five thousand acres. 
At Bethel, as the settlement was called, communism was definitely 
established. All land was held in common, and each member put his 
assets into the pool. A list was kept, however, of all contributions, 
and the Bethel community does not seem to have refused some re- 
payment if a member wished to withdraw. In fact, there were sev- 
eral instances of withdrawal from the community attended by an 
allotment of land, upon which the seceder continued to live, appar- 
ently in complete social accord and friendship with his neighbors of 
the communal group. 

Cheap land and the high prices of a boom period caused the 
colony to prosper, and in the early 1850'$ its numbers rose to nearly 
one thousand. Keil was restless, however, and apprehensive of the 
effect upon his docile followers of the rapid increase of settlement 
in eastern Missouri. Bethel lay near the route then being traversed 
by thousands who were seeking new homes in the Oregon country. 
The industrious Bethelites built covered wagons for the emigrants 
and sold them provisions for the journey westward. Soon Keil him- 
self became infected with the Oregon fever and began to plan the 
removal of as many of the community as would go with him. 

The saga of that journey over the Oregon trail is as stirring as 
the Mormon hegira of the preceding decade. Scouts were sent a 
year ahead of the migration to decide upon the location of the new 
community; wagons were built and provisions were stored. Dr. 
Keil's young son, Willie, was one of the most enthusiastic partici- 
pants in the work of preparation, but just before the expedition was 
to depart the boy fell ill with malaria. To quiet him as he raved in 
delirium, the father promised that nothing should prevent his ac- 
companying the wagon train to Oregon. When the expedition was 
ready to start, the lad was dying. Faithful to his promise the father 
made arrangements for the son's journey. The wagon the boy had 
helped to build became a hearse, and die mules he had hoped to 
drive led the way for the wagons of his friends in the long and 
wearisome journey to the new home in Oregon. As they left Bethel 


the men and women of this funeral train sang the song "Das Grab 
ist tief und still" composed by Keil for music written by one of the 
colony. In fact the Bethelites sang their way across the plains and 
the mountains, and the story of the cavalcade of singing white men 
led by a wagon containing the coffin of the son of their leader be- 
came a legend among the Indians of the Northwest. 

Between 1854 and 1863 about two thirds of the Bethelites went 
west to establish the new village of Aurora, which was built on the 
same principle as the one they had left. Aurora, too, prospered in 
moderation. There was no niggardliness in the lives of the settlers; 
there was plenty for all, and they lived simply but well. Charles 
Nordhoff, who visited both Bethel and Aurora about 1870, com- 
mented upon the monotony of the communal life and the general 
lack of comfort and beauty. 

The bond that held the two communities together was the dy- 
namic personality of Keil. Under his guidance, even though his con- 
trol over Bethel was exerted only by deputies, his followers were 
content to live from 1844 unt ^ hk death in 1879. Few of the orig- 
inal members of the society left; few of the young people remained 
for long. The leader endeavored to provide for the continuance of 
communal life by the appointment of trustees to manage each group, 
but his death showed the futility of such plans. Both societies dis- 
solved almost at once. All land and property were divided, with an 
allotment to each man and woman in proportion to his or her years 
of service. There seems to have been no dispute over this division 
the riches were not on a scale to excite great avarice and the vil- 
lages drowsed on as before. In 1883 Bethel became an incorporated 
village with a population of three hundred; Aurora at the same time 
had about two hundred and fifty inhabitants. 


More nearly like the Rappite community in origin was the 
settlement of German Separatists at Zoar, Ohio. There is a dearth 
of source material for this society. Almost no records were kept, 
not even lists of settlers; apparently the written or printed word 
was of little significance to them, and there is little to relieve the 
general drabness of their story. In their homeland these German 
pietists had broken with the established church and adopted beliefs 


much like those of the Quakers. They had no ritual and no or- 
dained ministers, they would not take oaths, they were pacifists, and 
they would doff their hats to no one. They were constantly in 
trouble over the question of military service and of attendance in state 
schools. A famine in 1816 crystallized their discontent, and in 1817 
three hundred of them from Wurttemburg, Bavaria, and Baden 
gathered in Hamburg preparatory to migration to America. Those 
who had funds paid for the passage of those who had none, and 
some of the penniless agreed to work out their passage money on 
arrival in the United States. They asked only to be allowed to ac- 
company their leader, Joseph Michael Baumler, later called Bime- 
ler, to whatever new home he might choose. 

They settled in northern Ohio, where Bimeler had contracted 
for about five thousand acres of land at a price of fifteen thousand 
dollars to be paid in installments, the first due after ten years. They 
named their community Zoar because it was a refuge from the evils 
of this world as the biblical Zoar had been from the wickedness of 
Sodom. Cooperative enterprise was necessary for clearing and plant- 
ing the land and building their homes. Communal ownership was 
forced upon them by their poverty, by the problem of the sick and 
aged, and by the jealousy of a few for Bimeler, in whose name all 
deeds had been entered. In 1819 those who favored communism 
succeeded in getting a vote to put all their possessions into a com- 
mon stock under the direction of trustees. Fifty-three men and one 
hundred and four women signed the agreement. These same men 
and women agreed to give up marriage, and thus limit the popula- 
tion, until the debt should be paid. Communism and celibacy were 
adopted, therefore, for economic and not religious reasons. The 
first was permanent, the second purely a temporary arrangement. In 
1832 the Society of the Separatists of Zoar was incorporated by ac- 
tion of the state legislature, and from that time on it received state 
protection from the claims of dissatisfied seceders. 

With the growth of Ohio prosperity came to the industrious set- 
tiers of Zoar. Their first great economic progress came in 1833 
through a contract to aid in the building of the Ohio Canal, which 
crossed their lands. The twenty thousand dollars thus earned 
cleared their debts and permitted them to build new industries, 
while the canal itself gave them a route to markets. Because of the 


language barrier and their lack of missionary zeal there was no ap- 
peal to non-German neighbors, but they received a few recruits 
from Germany. The largest population of the village, attained about 
1840, was five hundred. Bimeler was their leader, their preacher, 
and their business manager. His leadership was quiet, economically 
sound, farsighted, and benevolent. When he died in 1853 he was 
lamented by all, and he had no successor. No preacher ever occu- 
pied the pulpit designed for him in the new church, completed after 
his death. A lay reader conducted the services by reading from Bime- 
ler's published discourses. 

After Bimeler's death the community declined steadily both in 
numbers and prosperity. Machine production in the world outside 
made their milling industries profitless, and they gave up one at a 
time their brickyard, their ore furnaces, and their tannery. They 
were poor, ignorant peasants in the beginning, and so they re- 
mained, quite placidly content with the comfortable livelihood their 
fertile lands and their industry assured them; their morality and 
honesty prevented exploitation by corrupt trustees. Their simple 
piety survived the loss of their religious leader; no Separatist of Zoar 
was ever convicted on a criminal charge. Their dress was simple, 
their houses plain; they traveled little and felt little desire for those 
things which, never having had, they did not miss. In the later years 
their greatest trial was the desire of their young people to seek their 
fortunes in that place designated vaguely as "the World." As in other 
communities, the breath of life lasted long after the real energy 
had departed. Communal property rights, inertia, and inbreeding 
held the group together. Although the days of its strength were all 
lived out in the pre-Civil War period, the final dissolution did not 
come until 1898, when a decision was taken to divide the property 
and dissolve the society. 


The Amana Society, or the Community of True Inspiration, was 
another pietistic sect, formed in rural Germany under the leader- 
ship of Michael Krausent, a tailor of Strasbourg, Christian Metz, 
carpenter, and Barbara Heinemann, a servant girl. By visions, dreams, 
revelations, and inner promptings, these three built up their doc- 
trine and won their followers, They called their church the New 


Community and accepted the Bible as their sole guide, repudiating 
the established church. For protection from persecution and for 
economic and social reasons the leaders gathered their flock about 
them on estates leased from great landowners or rented from monas- 
teries and convents. 18 However, rents were high and land prices ex- 
orbitant, and there was a disastrous drought in 1842. So the leaders 
decided to emigrate. 

Near Buffalo, New York, those sent ahead to buy land founded 
a community called Ebenezer, and to this community the members 
of the sect began to come in 1843. There is no mention of commu- 
nism in the accounts of the sect in Germany. Again it was the 
circumstances of their New World life that forced communal or- 
ganization. In the constitution drawn up by the Ebenezer villages in 
1843, it was stated that all property, excepting clothing and house- 
hold goods, should be held in common for a two-year period at 
least, and that those who advanced money should eventually receive 
a "proportionate share." All land titles were vested in sixteen trus- 
tees. Once established this community in goods could not easily be 
dissolved. Realizing that their people would disperse and the whole 
enterprise would fail if the joint-stock system should be given up, 
the leaders received revelation after revelation on the merits of 
communism, until the people were educated to accept it as the best 
form of enterprise. 

Between 1843 and 1846 eight hundred emigrants from Germany 
arrived, and four villages were established, each with its meeting- 
house, store, school, and local government. By the early 1850*8 
more land was needed. Doubtful of the advisability of remaining so 
near the distractions of Buffalo, the trustees sent agents to buy land 
farther west. They found their new home in the valley of the Iowa 
River, where they eventually owned holdings of twenty-six thou- 
sand acres. Moving the whole settlement to Iowa was a gradual 
process, but within ten years the last member of the True Inspira- 
tion had left New York, and in 1859 the Amana Society was incor- 
porated under the laws of Iowa. 

The community prospered in its early years. The rise in the 
value of its lands and the fertility of the soil soon provided the set- 
tlers with capital and adequate income. Divided into seven villages, 
they lived severely in a simple, democratic regime. They carried on 


the usual village industries, finding textile weaving, especially blan- 
ket making, a profitable sideline. They retained the German lan- 
guage and made little provision for anything beyond an elementary 
education. Without ever advocating celibacy, they did not look 
with great approval upon matrimony and prevented hasty unions 
by requiring a year's separation before those who had proclaimed 
their intentions were united in marriage. As in the case of other 
settlements, there was a gradual decline in numbers in the period 
after the Civil War. Many of the young people left the community, 
and few recruits were gained from outside its limits. Content, peace- 
ful, and secure, the remainder lived on well into the twentieth cen- 
tury before the communal ties were dissolved and the property was 


Similar in many ways in pietistic origin, in poverty, and in sub- 
mission to a forceful leader to the societies established by German 
sects, the Swedish colony founded by Eric Janson at Bishop Hill, 
Illinois, differed greatly from the others in the tempestuous nature 
of its history and the brevity of its existence. Excitement began for 
each convert as soon as he turned from his quiet village to follow 
the standard of the firebrand, Eric Janson; hardship and privation 
went with him across the ocean to the New World; violence dwelt 
with him and took the life of his leader; and tension and excitement 
pursued him until the community dissolved in grief and dissension 
in 1860. 

Part of the inquietude and trouble of the Bishop Hill colony was 
due to the character and personality of its leader. Bishop, prophet, 
or Messiah he called himself all three Janson was never the pa- 
ternal leader or the patient teacher of the flock that followed him 
with blind devotion. He was volatile, talkative, and intolerant of 
criticism; his ignorance and inexperience were equaled only by his 
overweening self-confidence and his certainty of his divine mission. 
A grand fighter, he tackled every adversary without fear and often 
without judgment. But not all the burden of blame for the failure 
of the colony lies upon Janson. The men who followed him in 
leadership were equally lacking in wisdom and equally adventure- 

In the brief history of the Bishop Hill community may be found 

Amana Village in Iowa, a settlement of the Community 
of True Inspiration 

The Brother House at Epkrata, built entirely without nails. 
It was also used as a hospital. 

Father George Rapp 

William Keil 

From Robert J. Hendricks, Bethel and durora, 1933, by permission of Paul R. Hendricks 

The funeral train of Willie Keil on the 'way to Oregon 


in miniature the rise and fall of fortune of many a man and group of 
men of the Middle West in the boom years after 1845 ^d in the 
crash of the panic of 1857. The enterprising Swedes in charge of 
the little colony were, unlike their counterparts in the German 
communities, quick to be infected with the spirit of the times, and 
they plunged the society into the speculative enterprise that was 
invading all Western business. 

As in the case of many of these smaller sects, the history of the 
group is in large part the biography of its founder. Janson was born 
in 1808 of poor parents. As a child he was not strong, played little 
with other children, was moody and unhappy. During adolescence 
he became a religious enthusiast of a restless, reforming nature. His 
real conversion and dedication came at the age of twenty-two, 
when he is reported to have fallen from his horse because of pain 
caused by the rheumatism with which he had been long afflicted. As 
he lay by the side of the road he heard, or thought he heard, a voice 
saying, "It is written that whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing 
that it shall be given unto you, and all things are possible to him 
who believes, and when you call, I will answer you, says the Lord." 
He thereupon got himself up from the roadside and never again felt 
a twinge of the rheumatism that had caused his fall. 14 From that 
day he began to preach to the people near him and to read religious 
books constantly. For ten turbulent years he taught, preached, and 
harangued in fulfillment of the mission to which he felt he had been 

Perfectionism and millennialism came to Janson through Method- 
ism and through prolonged study of the Book of Revelation in the 
New Testament. Soon he claimed to be the "God-sent prophet," 
"the restorer of true doctrine," "the vicar of Christ on earth." Like 
other pietists he believed that Christianity had left the church when 
it became a state religion after Constantine, and he was convinced 
that he had been sent to restore it. He called upon the Swedish 
people to accept his leadership and to help found a New Jerusalem 
in which to await the millennium. He soon had hundreds of fol- 

It is not difficult to understand the appeal- of this peasant-preacher 
of a new faith. He was a striking figure, dramatic in his ugliness; he 
was of middle height, pale, with thin sunken cheeks, long promi- 


nent teeth, a scarred forehead, hypnotic blue eyes, and twitching fa- 
cial muscles. He was a gifted orator, with a prodigious memory and 
magnificent self-confidence. His voice was harsh but clear, and his 
sermons were like those of the Methodist revivalists. He spoke dra- 
matically of his visions and of his power to heal disease, drive out 
devils, and perform other miracles. Even his failures in endeavoring 
to prove these statements did not lose him adherents, for he could 
shout down every critic and curse every doubter in a terrifying 
manner. At one time he closed all argument by exclaiming, "All 
authority has been given unto me in heaven and on earth. If I so 
willed, you should at once fall dead at my feet and go to hell." 

It is also easy to understand the instant opposition of the Lu- 
theran clergy, whose services he forbade his followers to attend and 
whom he called "pillars of hell" and "arch purveyors of the devil." 
Whenever they were opposed the Jansonists "praised the Lord who 
tried their faith by allowing them to be persecuted. They marched 
along the public high ways at night and sang spiritual hymns, or 
gathered in front of the parsonages to pray for the conversion of 
their unregenerate pastors." 15 When their meetings were broken up, 
the Jansonists stole secretly out to the woods at midnight to sing and 
pray, until the ecclesiastical authorities professed to fear a peasants' 
revolt and called Janson a second Miinzer. 

In June of 1844 Janson conducted a great burning of religious 
books on the shore of a lake in Alfta parish, saying gleefully,, "Satan 
had a glorious jubilee when Luther's writings were published; now, 
when they are burnt, he will have to be in mourning." Thus goaded, 
the clergy caused the arrest of Janson. Attempts were made to 
prove him insane, but, since the crown refused to keep a man in 
prison for religious differences, he was released, only to stage a sec- 
ond holocaust of books in October. Again he was arrested and again 
freed, meetings were broken up by the police or by mobs of the 
orthodox, and the Jansonists feared that their property was to be 
confiscated and their persons imprisoned. They decided to emigrate, 
and representatives were sent to buy land for them in America. 

Upon hearing from their agents that a site had been chosen, those 
who were ready to migrate went in small groups to various ports 
and took passage in whatever boats they could find. Janson, dis- 
guised as a woman, fled on skis across the Norwegian frontier and 


joined one party at Oslo. Of this first migration one ship was lost 
with all on board; two were wrecked, although the passengers' lives 
were saved; and one of the five ships was so buffeted by storm that 
it was five months on the way. Cholera appeared on all the vessels, 
and food and water proved insufficient. Janson consoled the suffer- 
ing emigrants by claiming that the millennium would soon be theirs, 
that they would have the gift of tongues so that the strange lan- 
guage would not trouble them, and that soon from their New 
Jerusalem "should radiate a true Christianity that should convert 
America and from America spread over all the world." 

Janson and the first arrivals in 1846 went by steamboat to Albany 
and then by the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to Chicago; from 
there they walked one hundred miles to the little village of Victoria, 
near which the land secured by their agents was located. By Decem- 
ber four hundred Swedes had arrived, and they faced the Illinois 
winter with only a few log cabins and four tents for shelter. The first 
cold sent them underground into sod houses and dugouts "mud 
caves" the Swedes called them where thirty or forty persons were 
packed into quarters about twenty-five by eighteen .feet in size. 
Worn out by the long journey, underfed, and cold, many of them 
died in that first winter, while others, thoroughly disillusioned, left to 
find work and shelter elsewhere. Undiscouraged and defiant, Janson 
rose at five every morning and urged his flock out of their hovels 
for prayer and religious service, wanning them by his fervent ex- 
hortation, promising them riches, and prophesying the rapid growth 
of their church. Those who were ill were accused of little faith, of 
which death was a proof, and night guards were stationed to pre- 
vent desertion. 

Building went on during the winter, and cultivation began with 
the spring. A tabernacle large enough to house a thousand was built 
of logs and canvas; a school was opened in a "mud cave"; and Jan- 
son made preparations to convert America to his beliefs by appoint- 
ing twelve apostles who, after learning English, were to become 
missionaries of Jansonism. The colonists used near-by materials for 
the construction of adobe or cement houses. Few frame buildings 
were constructed, because lumber was expensive. Within three 
years the group had bought ten thousand acres. New immigrants 
arriving in 1847 spent the severe winter with their compatriots in 


the completed houses and in the dugouts that it still was necessary 
to use. All those who came, however, did not remain. In 1848 two 
hundred withdrew and, joining the Methodist church, settled near 
by on land they purchased for themselves. 

During 1847 the Jansonists grew food crops and many acres of 
flax, from the manufacture of which they hoped to obtain cash for 
needed supplies. Each year an increasing amount of cloth and car- 
peting was made, until the peak was reached in 1 857 with the manu- 
facture of about one hundred and fifty thousand yards. After that 
little was sold, for the completion of the Burlington railroad caused 
the cheap manufactured goods of the East to flood the Western 
market. Since there were many more women than men in the 
colony and men were needed in the industrial plants, women were 
more frequently seen doing farm labor. Dairy work, cheese-making, 
gardening, and working with the flax were their special province. 
As new groups from Sweden arrived the yearly immigration did 
not cease until 1854, and in all about fifteen hundred came the 
new colonists were fitted into the community economy where they 
were best adapted or most needed. 

One of the community's greatest disasters came with the arrival 
of one of these Swedish groups in 1849. On the last stages of the 
journey Asiatic cholera appeared in the party, and several of its 
members died. Cholera then broke out in Bishop Hill, and nearly 
one hundred and fifty of the colonists died. In panic many fled to 
other towns, but the dread disease followed them. Their prophet 
and healer was powerless and somewhat discredited, for his own 
wife was one of the victims. 

Janson's ideas on marriage, which had not been constant, were 
shown in an interesting light at this time. Study of the Bible had at 
first caused him to favor celibacy, and the hard struggle of pro- 
viding for the settlers had forced restriction of births during the 
first years. So marriages were forbidden for the time and the mar- 
ried were asked to live apart, but the measure was unpopular and 
.unenforceable. Then Janson veered completely to a new point of 
view. In 1848 he issued a command: "All to whom God has given 
a desire to marry should forthwith be joined together or else be 
condemned to hell!" Mass marriage ceremonies followed; twenty- 
five couples on one Sunday, fourteen on another. As for the leader 


himself, a few days after his wife's death it was announced that a 
new "spiritual mother" for the community was essential, and the 
Bishop would remarry at once. Several women volunteered for the 
position, and a Mrs. Pollock, thrice widowed, no longer young but 
still attractive, was chosen. 

Although the community grew more prosperous and life became 
much easier, trouble was ahead for the Jansonists. The Bishop grew 
more arrogant with the success of his venture and interfered con- 
stantly in the domestic affairs of the colonists. He preached at 
length on Sundays and reviled all who refused to listen attentively. 
Even the Deity was treated abruptly, for one day when work on a 
dam was endangered by rain, Janson prayed loudly, "If You, O 
God, do not give good weather so that we can finish the work we 
have at hand, I shall depose You from your seat of omnipotence, 
and You shall not reign either in heaven or on earth, for You cannot 
reign without me." 16 

Serious trouble came when Janson endeavored to interfere in the 
affairs of John Root and his wife, who was a cousin of the Bishop. 
Root was an adventurer who had joined the colony for reasons of 
his own, and he seems to have been lazy, rough, and a thoroughly 
bad lot. When he left the community in 1849, he insisted upon 
taking his wife with him, but Janson refused to let her go. Then 
followed a tragicomedy of kidnaping and pursuit, of flight and law- 
suit, that ended the next year when Root shot Janson in the court- 
house in Cambridge, Illinois. 

The Bishop's mantle finally fell upon Jonas Olson, who had been 
one of the leading men of the sect since its beginnings in Sweden. 
There seems to be some difference of opinion on the character and 
ability of Olson, but all authorities agree that he was as tyrannical 
as Janson had been. In 1853 the colony was incorporated, appar- 
ently without the knowledge .of the illiterate rank and file, and 
seven trustees were self-appointed to manage its affairs. From that 
time on Olson as chief trustee was in charge at Bishop Hill, while 
Olaf Johnson was the colony's agent in all business transactions. 
Under the charter there was prosperity at first, for the community 
shared in the advantages of the boom period of the early 1850*5, but, 
swept away by the business opportunities of the day, Johnson 
speculated wildly with society funds. Agricultural prices were high, 


the colony flour mill was working overtime, and there was money 
to invest. So Johnson bought town lots in Galva and railroad, canal, 
and bank stock, started a pork-packing business, and built a grain 
elevator. When the crash carne in 1857 the Jansonists' prosperity 
vanished, and the deluded settlers found themselves saddled with 

Olson, too, was having difficulties. Although in general the col- 
ony's missionaries had met with little success, a certain Nils Hedin 
had visited other communistic settlements and had brought back a 
few converts from the disintegrating Hopedale Community and 
many ideas gleaned from the Shakers of Kentucky. Among these 
ideas was celibacy, and he convinced Olson of its merits. For the 
second time in a decade the settlers of Bishop Hill resisted an attempt 
to force celibacy upon them, this time with the threat of dissolu- 
tion. When to this dissatisfaction was added the shock of financial 
catastrophe, the end of communal life was inevitable. It was some 
twelve years before the final division of assets was arranged, and 
then only after expensive and prolonged litigation. 

With the end of communal life the Jansonists, whose religion 
had centered around the personality of their dead leader, wandered 
off into other churches. Some became Methodists, a few returned 
to Lutheranism, more became Seventh Day Adventists. One or two 
made their way to Kentucky and joined the Shaker community of 
Pleasant Hill, while several of the most completely disillusioned 
accepted the atheistic opinions of Robert Ingersoll. And so ended 
one of the most dramatic of the experiments in religious com- 


Charles Nordhoff, who made a careful study of almost all the 
communities that lived on into the i86o's, ended his book on the 
subject with a summary of his observations. He was convinced that 
the Germans made better communists than any other people. They 
were contented, docile, and willing to obey their leaders. A com- 
mune, he felt, could only succeed when composed of persons who 
were agreed upon some question of religious belief, although there 
was no need for fanaticism. Community living had many economic 
advantages, and American communities showed a great variety of 
business and mechanical skills as well as excellent agricultural or- 


ganization but for the religious communities these, of course, 
were not the first consideration. Social equality and economic 
security were, Nordhoff thought, the great boons offered by com- 
munal life. The religious communities offered, as well, the con- 
genial companionship of members of a common faith. In the 
community the persecutions and trials of earlier experiences could 
be forgotten, and the members of the society could prepare in 
peace for the eternal reward each sect claimed as the climax of its 
difficult road to salvation. 


The Shaker Communities 

In 1774 there landed in New York an unassuming and unprepos- 
sessing woman and eight persons who had left England with her 
to establish their faith in a new and freer world. The woman was 
Ann Lee Stanley, who as Mother Ann was to build in America a 
church called officially the Millennial Church or the United So- 
ciety of Believers but commonly called, by its members as well as 
the outside world, the Shaker Society. The Shakers were to be the 
largest, the most permanent, and in many ways the most interesting 
and significant of the religious communistic settlements in the 
United States. After the first generation their membership was to 
be largely native American, and their importance in American re- 
ligious and social history overshadows that of all the minor sects 
and communities. 

Established before 1800, they were to have within twenty-five 
years about twenty settlements in seven states, and in their period of 
maximum growth in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, 
a total membership of about six thousand.* Long after the Civil 
War ushered in an era of industrial development and social change 
the United Society lived on, its doctrines and its way of life un- 
changed, although its membership steadily declined. In the present 
day, more than two hundred years after the birth of Mother Ann, 
there are fewer than one hundred Shakers in the country, dis- 
tributed in the two or three communities they have contrived to 
keep in operation. Few converts have been made in recent years, 
and the shrunken "families" in each community are composed of 
aged men and women who employ labor to perform the tasks and 
keep up the lands and buildings they are too feeble and too few to 

* It is impossible to find two accounts giving the same number of Shaker settle- 
ments. The difficulty seems to be that several colonies were not permanent and the 
total, therefore, varies with the number of such short-lived settlements included. 
Edward Deming Andrews, probably the greatest living authority on the Shaker 
movement, lists a relatively small number, including four colonies in Massachu- 
setts, two in Maine, two in New Hampshire, one in Connecticut, and two in New 
York all founded before 1800; after 1800 four colonies were established in Ohio 
and two in Kentucky, one (for a short time) in Indiana, and another in New 
York. He records no new societies for the period after 1830. 




Ann Lee was the daughter of John Lee, a blacksmith, and was 
born in Toad Lane, Manchester, England, in 1 7 3 6. Her parents were 
poor, and she was one of eight children; so work rather than school 
was her childhood lot, and she never learned to read or write. First 
sent to work in a cotton factory, she later was a cutter of hatter's 
fur, and still later worked as a cook in the Manchester Infirmary. 
She seems to have been pious from childhood, for the early accounts 
state that she 

was the subject of religious impressions, and was peculiarly favored 
with heavenly visions. As she advanced in years she was strongly im- 
pressed with a sense of the great depravity of human nature and of the 
odiousness of sin, and especially of the impure nature of sexual coition. 
She often expressed her feelings to her mother concerning these things, 
and earnestly desired that she might be kept from the snares of sin, and 
from those abominations which her soul abhorred. 1 

Regardless of the fears and scruples attributed to her by all Shaker 
authorities, she was, "through the importunities of her relations," 
induced at an early age to marry Abraham Stanley, another black- 
smith, by whom she had four children who died in infancy or early 
childhood. There seems to have been no ease or comfort and little 
happiness in her life. In 1758 she was converted, or rather, as an old 
chronicle of her life quaintly puts it, "she became the subject of the 
work that was under the ministration of James and Jane Wardley," 
and joined the sect already called the Shakers. 

The history of this sect goes back to the France of Louis XIV. 
In the year 1688 a group of Dauphiny peasants, calling themselves 
Prophets, claimed the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and went about 
preaching a return to the primitive Christian faith. They grew in 
numbers and in the violence of their actions. They believed physi- 
cal manifestations to be the outward sign of religious fervor, and 
"they had strange fits, which came upon them with tremblings and 
f aintings, as in a swoon, which made diem stretch out their arms and 
legs and stagger several times before they dropped down." 2 In 
trances they saw visions, and after the "agitations of the body" 
they received the gift of prophecy. 

Persecution was, of course, their lot in France, and the few thou- 
sands that embraced the new teaching were soon eliminated or won 


back to Catholicism. Three or four of them, however, escaped to 
England, where they continued their prophecies and their teach- 
ings. They were miUennialists, crying warning of Christ's second 
coming and predicting famine and pestilence for the wicked. They 
claimed the gift of languages and the gift of healing as well as that 
of prophecy. They won a few adherents, chiefly from the working 
classes, and eventually the little group fell under the leadership of 
James and Jane Wardley, who had been Quakers and brought with 
them much of Quaker doctrine. The violence of the early physical 
manifestations was subdued into a ritualistic dance in which wor- 
ship could be expressed by the body as well as by the heart and 
soli. It was this that gave the sect the name of Shaking Quakers or 
just Shakers. 

After her acceptance by the Shakers, Ann Lee went through 
nine years of trial and religious unrest. 

It appears that in watchings, fastings, tears and incessant cries to God, 
she labored day and night, for deliverance from the very nature of sin; 
and that, under the most severe tribulation of mind, and die most violent 
temptations and bufferings of the enemy, the agony of her soul was so 
extreme as to occasion a perspiration of blood. Sometimes, for whole 
nights together her cries, screeches and groans were such as to fill every 
soul around with fear and trembling. 8 

The commentator does not state how much of the poor woman's 
anguish of soul was occasioned by her hard work, unhappy married 
life, and the loss one after another of her children. Some comfort 
came to her from her association with the Shakers, and, when she 
felt revelations had come to her in the trances that followed her 
greatest suffering, she went about with the Wardleys preaching and 
teaching wherever they could get a hearing. Town authorities did 
not look with pleasure upon such unorthodox meetings, and the 
Shakers were imprisoned for "profaning the Sabbath." In 1770 Ann 
spent some time in the Manchester jail, where she meditated upon 
religion and received revelations of the "root of human depravity, 
and the cause of man's fall." When freed she began to preach with 
such new vision and authority that she was soon recognized as the 
"visible leader of the Church of God upon earth." 

New persecutions followed. Ann was often imprisoned, was 
stoned by mobs, and threatened with having her tongue bored with 


a hot iron. At one time she was kept in a locked cell for fourteen 
days in the hope that starvation might rid the town of this woman 
who would not be silenced, but a faithful disciple fed her by pour- 
ing milk through the stem of a pipe inserted through the keyhole, 
and the designs of her enemies were thwarted. Finally, despairing 
of peace at home and having acquired a few followers who were 
able to provide financial assistance, Mother Ann decided to seek 
asylum in the New World. In the summer of 1774, accompanied by 
eight of her flock including her husband, a brother, and a niece 
the leader of the Shaker church sailed in the ship Mariah for 


The three months' voyage was not a season of rest and quiet. The 
Shakers "went forth, in obedience to their inward feelings, to praise 
God in songs and dances" and so offended the captain that he 
threatened to throw them overboard. But in a storm that almost 
wrecked their leaky ship the Shakers manned the pumps and, pray- 
ing loudly, did their part to save the vessel from destruction. Re- 
stored to the captain's favor, they ended the voyage in good order 
and set forth in New York almost penniless to seek their fortunes. 
A few of them went up the Hudson and settled on wooded land 
northwest of Albany, near a village then called Niskeyuna, later 
named Watervliet. Mother Ann stayed in New York and worked 
as a laundress until her husband deserted her for another woman. 
Then she joined the others at Niskeyuna, aiding them in clearing 
and planting the land they had settled upon. 

For five years the little group labored in the wilderness without 
molestation and without winning converts from the villages near 
them. In 1779 the New Light Baptists conducted a religious revival 
at New Lebanon. It quickly ran its course, but a few who were 
moved by it but were not satisfied by Baptist doctrine came to visit 
Mother Ann and her followers and were soon ardent Shakers. This 
interest spread, and soon Mother Ann was traveling through New 
England winning converts and gathering them into little congrega- 
tions similar to that at Niskeyuna. Everywhere the staid Puritans 
were alarmed at the novel services and doctrines of the new sect, 
and persecution followed similar to that suffered in England, ex- 
cept that it seems to have been caused by mob violence rather 


than by government action. Mother Ann was arrested only once in 
America, and that was on the charge that she and her followers 
were British and inimical to the American cause. 

Between 1780 and 1784 many converts were made, miracles were 
attributed to Mother Ann and the elders she appointed, 4 and the 
foundations were laid for colonies in Massachusetts, Maine, Con- 
necticut, and New Hampshire. Their valiant leader, however, was 
worn out by these exertions and in 1784, "having finished her work 
on earth she was called to bid adieu to all terrestrial things, and was 
released from her labors, her sorrows and her sufferings, and calmly 
resigned her soul to God." 5 

The accounts of the life of this remarkable woman, written 
within twenty years of her death by members of the sect who had 
known her or her original followers, all give a picture of a person 
of great piety and sincerity, unselfish, utterly fearless, and entirely 
devoted to the cause of winning the world to a way of life she be- 
lieved essential to salvation. She had the dignity of bearing and the 
simplicity of speech and manner that befitted her convictions as to 
her divine calling. She showed no trace of pride or avarice, and her 
reported sayings are filled with practical common sense and moral 
teaching. Frugality, charity, industry, honesty, humility, and tem- 
perance were the virtues she taught her "children," who she prayed 
would live together in love and peacefulness. Charity was in her 
constant admonition, "Remember the cries of those who are in need 
and trouble; that when you are in trouble, God may hear your 
prayers." Childless, she loved all children and was always attentive 
to their care and training. "It needs great wisdom," she said, "to 
bring up children." She urged her people, old and young, to "be 
faithful with their hands. Every faithful man will go forth and put 
up his fences in season, and will plow his ground in season, and 
put his crops into the ground in season; and such a man may with 
confidence look for a blessing." 6 

Many new sects have not survived the death of the leader who 
initiated them. The Shakers were fortunate in having strong men 
and women from whom new leadership could come. William Lee, 
the devoted companion of Mother Ann in all her experiences, died 
a few months before his sister, so her mantle fell upon James Whit- 
taker, who had come from England in the little group of eight. He 


was followed in 1787 by Elder Joseph Meacham and Eldress Lucy 
Wright, both American born and of old New England stock. They 
seem to have been remarkably able. Joseph Meacham had been a 
Baptist minister; Lucy Wright was a woman of great executive 
ability. Under their leadership the doctrines of Shakerism were elab- 
orated and systematized, the Shaker way of life was developed, 
and the close governmental organization of the Shaker church was 
worked out. When Lucy Wright died in 1821, the church was en- 
tering upon the period of its greatest membership and prosperity, 
and all fhe major Shaker communities had been established. With 
the work of Elder Frederick W. Evans, who joined the church in 
1830 and was an elder from 1836 to his death in 1892, the Shaker 
order reached its completed, form.* 


Although there were about a dozen Shaker communities by 1800, 
they were small and poor, and there seemed little prospect of great 
gains. Shortly after that date the entire picture was changed by the 
news of the great revivals in the West. Remembering that their first 
success in America had followed the New Light Baptist revival of 
1779, the Shakers prepared to take advantage of the new religious 
agitation. In 1805 John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs, and Issachar 
Bates were sent from Mt. Lebanon across the country on foot to 
the Ohio Valley to reap the harvest the revivalists had sown in the 
camp meetings that had shaken the frontier. After winning many 
converts at Turtle Creek, they moved on to Cane Ridge, Kentucky, 
where the revival was still in progress and where, much to the 
anger and distress of the revivalists, 7 the Shakers acquired many ad- 

Issachar Bates went back, again on foot, to Mt. Lebanon and col- 
lected funds for the continuance of the work. Land was purchased 
in the West, and new communities were founded. In all ten sisters 
and twelve brethren were sent west to assist in the organization of 

* Evans was one of the "universal reformers" of the period. In England he was 
an Owenite and freethinking radical. After he came to America in 1820, he aided 
his brother, G. H. Evans, a friend of Horace Greeley, in publishing the Working 
Man's Advocate and other working class papers. He maintained his interest in 
Owen's Utopian socialism until the failure or the New Harmony experiment; then, 
turning elsewhere for communistic living, he gave up his materialistic philosophy 
and devoted his energies wholeheartedly to the Shaker Society. 


the Shaker church on the frontier, where they welcomed all com- 
ers, "Indian, pioneer or planter, ignorant Negro or Presbyterian di- 
vine." Between 1801 and 1811 Issachar Bates traveled, mostly on 
foot, some thirty-eight thousand miles and heard the first confes- 
sions of more than a thousand applicants for membership. Wher- 
ever a revival provided a favorable atmosphere for Shaker teaching, 
the itinerants of the society vied with those of the evangelical 
church in gathering in the converts. Four communities were founded 
in Ohio and two in Kentucky. One of the latter, the colony at 
Pleasant Hill, was destined to last until well into the twentieth 
century. In the early days of these settlements there was much op- 
position and several outbursts of mob violence. The courts of the 
Western states pretty generally upheld the legality of the Shaker 
covenant, however, and the essentially peaceful nature of the Shak- 
ers themselves soon disarmed the opponents. The Western Shakers 
were, for the most part, prosperous, and their communities grew in 
numbers, reaching their maximum size, as in the East, in the years 
1830-50, when their combined membership was estimated at six 


Mother Ann's contribution to Shaker teaching can be summed 
up in her belief that God is a dual personality, that in Christ the 
masculine side of that personality was made manifest, and that in 
the fullness of time, in her own life, there was a second incarnation 
of the Holy Spirit whereby the feminine element of God appeared 
to continue the work begun by Christ. Her church was, therefore, 
a millennial one, and since she received her inspiration through 
trance and revelation, it was also, from the beginning, spiritualistic 
in belief. Aside from these fundamental tenets, Mother Ann added 
to the usual dogmas of pietistic groups only her insistence upon 
celibacy. She drew heavily upon Quaker ideas. Implicit in all her 
statements was the belief in the Bible as the source of all religious 
faith, and she sought always a literal interpretation of every passage, 
especially those of prophecy and revelation. 

The leaders of the church after the death of Mother Ann en- 
larged upon her teachings and developed a body of doctrine from 
which the Shakers have not deviated. Shaker advenrism was shown 
to be spiritual and not physical. "As the substance of the first 


woman was taken from the body of the first man; so that Divine 
Spirit with which the second woman was endowed . . . was taken 
from the Spirit of Christ." 8 Mother Ann thus became the "Second 
pillar of the Church of God," but the Shakers were careful to state 
that they did not mean the "human tabernacle" of Ann Lee. That 
was but the instrument for the expression of divine truth, which 
could not complete its work until all men had become spiritual. The 
Shaker church alone, with its demand for strict chastity, could en- 
sure such purity and spirituality. Since the millennium was believed 
to be at hand, there was no reason for the further continuance of 
the human race, and continence would prepare the faithful for the 
perfect state promised them. Perfectionism was an integral part of 
Shaker doctrine. In the new order that which had been "earthly, 
sensual, devilish" would be "spiritual, divine, and heavenly." 9 

A life in preparation for such a perfect state must be lived in 
accord with the twelve virtues: faith, hope, honesty, continence, in- 
nocence, simplicity, meekness, humility, prudence, patience, thank- 
fulness, and charity. Constant watchfulness was necessary to main- 
tain a life based upon these virtues; therefore full auricular confession 
was demanded from everyone entering the church and was required 
at intervals from members. With their consciences freed by con- 
fession the faithful might attain the desired virtues by observance of 
the seven moral principles upon which the Shaker societies were 
grounded: duty to God, duty to man, separation from the world, 
practical peace, simplicity of language, right use of property, and a 
virgin life. For one who lived in accordance with these principles 
heaven and resurrection began on this earth a resurrection from 
the animal to the spiritual plane and perfection might be attained 
through practicing the spiritual and moral virtues taught and exem- 
plified by Jesus Christ. 10 

Shaker doctrines or concepts in regard to the life after death 
were a complex but important part of their whole theology. They 
held that there had been four cycles or periods in religious history 
and that the present or fourth period was the new dispensation after 
the advent of Mother Ann. The heaven of this cycle was believed 
to be in the process of formation, for the day of judgment, or 
"beginning of Christ's kingdom on earth," dated from the estab- 
lishment of the Shaker church and would be completed by its de- 


velopment. The mission of the church was to gather in the elect 
who might attain perfection and salvation through lives of purifica- 
tion and a denial of the flesh. In the spirit world the Shakers would 
continue to win those who had died without accepting Shaker 
doctrines, until eventually all would be saved. The Shakers believed, 
therefore, in the punishment of the wicked only for a season, in a 
probationary state in the spirit world, and in a final salvation for 
all; that is, they were Universalists. Since the Shaker way of life was 
too hard for the ordinary, carnal man, the Shakers were willing to 
admit that on this earth their communities would, in fact should, 
be few and their total membership small. The world, they said, was 
an "Outer Order" where property and marriage were not crimes or 
sinful. The process of redemption would be long and would, of 
necessity, be largely a purification in the next world. 11 


Humble though the individual Shaker was commanded to be, be- 
lief in the mission of the Shaker church as the sole true agency of 
salvation made the society itself both exclusive and arrogant. The 
difficulty of the life and the restrictions imposed upon the individ- 
ual were distinctions of which the Shaker was proud. Secure in his 
position among the chosen few, the Shaker was willing to submit to 
the semimilitary government that made possible the close communal 
life demanded by his faith. The desires of the individual were sub- 
ordinate to the good of the community, and the decision as to what 
constituted that good was in the hands of a small, carefully selected 
group. To the outsider the Shaker community seemed a complete 
and stifling despotism; to the Shaker, who had learned to give up his 
own will, the good of the society might best be left to those whose 
authority was derived from Mother Ann. 

The "Head of Influence" or final authority in the Shaker Society 
was the ministry of the church at Mt. Lebanon, one of the oldest 
and largest of the communities. This ministry was self -perpetuating 
with one elder or eldress as its head, and it chose, or at least ap- 
proved, the elders and eldresses composing the ministry in each of 
the other communities. Equality of the sexes and the duality of life 
were recognized in the fact that each ministry was composed of an 


equal number of each sex. At Mt. Lebanon there were two elders 
and two eldresses. Each community was divided into "families" of 
from thirty to a hundred members. These families lived and worked 
separately, for both economic and social reasons. At Mt. Lebanon, 
where the total membership reached six hundred, the land and in- 
dustries were sufficient to support eight families; the North Family, 
the South Family, the Church Family, and so on. The families were 
ruled over by elders and deacons appointed by the ministry. In each 
community the ministry lived apart in special quarters designed for 
them. The deacons, usually two or four for each family, with men 
and women equally represented, superintended all labor. Trustees 
appointed by the ministry held all property and made all business 
contacts with the outside world. The laws and orders of the church 
were detailed and explicit, and printed copies of them were in the 
hands of each ministry. They were for the most part made up of 
the decisions of the various elders and eldresses that had been ap- 
proved by the central ministry at Mt. Lebanon. All tracts, hymnals, 
and other publications were also submitted to the "Head of Influ- 
ence" before publication. The hierarchy, therefore, was absolute in 
power, and from its dicta there was no redress. Democracy was not 
a part of the Shaker way of life. 12 

Membership in the Shaker church was purely voluntary, and the 
elders were careful to give a full explanation of all rules and re- 
quirements. There was no fixed creed or any condition laid down 
for entrance other than the biblical command, "If any man will 
come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, 
and follow me." There were three classes or orders: a Novitiate 
Order for new members, who were for the time permitted to keep 
their property and live with their natural families, although celi- 
bacy was required of them; a Junior Order of unmarried people 
who intended to become full members but who had not as yet given 
up their property rights; and the Senior Order made up of those 
who had, after long preparation, been admitted to full membership. 
Members of any of the three classes were free to leave the commu- 
nity at will and might be expelled for cause by the ministry of their 
local society. No seceding member was entitled to receive any com- 
pensation for labor performed or, in the case of members of the 
Senior Order, goods turned over to the community. The society 


could, however, and often did make some compensation to those 
who withdrew. 

It seems to have been the consistent practice of the Shakers to 
discourage hasty decisions on the part of applicants, and a reason- 
ably long probationary period was insisted upon. No "believing" 
husband or wife was advised to separate from the "unbelieving" 
spouse without mutual agreement and satisfactory arrangements for 
children and property. New members were required "to rectify all 
wrongs and settle all claims" before admission. In case a member 
entered the order with his or her minor children, provision was 
made for granting the children a share of the parent's estate in the 
event that upon attaining their majority the children did not choose 
to become members of the order. Orphan children adopted by the 
Shakers were given the same opportunity of choosing at the age of 
twenty-one whether or not they wished to become full members. 18 


Under the supervision of the central ministry, the Shaker com- 
munities East and West worked out a common way of life. Al- 
though a large part of each colony was always composed of those 
who had u in the World" been poor and little educated, there was 
an admixture of clergymen, lawyers, doctors, students, and even 
soldiers. There were representatives of all Protestant denomina- 
tions, but the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Adventists 
furnished the greatest number. An occasional Jew joined the Shak- 
ers, but there seems to be no record of a Roman Catholic's having 
been received. Whatever their previous condition in life, they had 
a common bond in their conversion and, usually, another in their 
happiness in the communal life. Those who resented authoritarian 
control did not long remain in the society, and their departure was 
a further assurance of peace for those who stayed. 

Shaker discipline permeated every phase of daily life. The mem- 
bers of the community from the ministry down to the novices arose 
early and worked steadily, but without undue pressure, at the tasks 
appointed for them by the deacons and deaconesses. Men and women 
did not ordinarily work together, although a brother was often 
appointed to help the sisters in some strenuous labor such as the 
work in the family dairy or laundry. Outdoor work, especially eld 

The Shakers' sacred dance, to shake sin from the body 
through the finger tips 

The wheel dance, another Shaker religious exercise 

A Shaker sister 

Elder Frederick W. Evans 

From Edward D. and Faith Andrews, Shaker Furniture, 1937, by permission of the Yale University Press 

The simple beauty of Shaker craftsmanship 


labor, was always considered men's work. The sisters did all the 
work inside the house. Occasionally outside labor was employed 
for field work and in various industrial enterprises, but there was 
no servant class. There was little idleness in the community, a fact 
that one Shaker youth with a sense of humor noted in verse: 

I'm overrun with work and chores 
Upon the farm or within doors. 
Whichever way I turn my eyes; 
Enough to fill me with surprise. 
How can I bear with such a plan? 
No time to be a gentleman! 
All work work - work, still rushing on, 
And conscience too, still pushing on, 
When will the working all be done? 
When will this lengthy thread be spun? 
As long as 'working is the cry- 
How can I e'er find time to die? " 

Shaker dress was uniform and simple, resembling that of the 
Quakers. Shaker architecture was very simple, too, but their build- 
ings were substantial, well constructed, and decidedly utilitarian. 
The huge family houses at Mt. Lebanon, for instance, resemble bar- 
racks or school dormitories, and the immense barns indicate the 
flourishing state of Shaker agriculture when they were built. Occa- 
sionally some builder with an eye for line and proportion produced 
a structure of stark simplicity but of great beauty a forerunner of 
modern functional architecture. The great stone house at Pleasant 
Hill, Kentucky, erected in 1824, is an example of such building and 
has made that quiet, almost deserted village a mecca for modern 

Shaker churches and most of the family houses had two en- 
trances, one for men, the other for women, and the houses had sep- 
arate stairways as well, leading to the sleeping quarters, which were 
also carefully divided between the sexes. Men and women ate in the 
same dining rooms but not at the same tables and they ate in si- 
lence. All rooms were painfully clean and neat. There were no cur- 
tains at the windows, no pictures on the walls, and only small 
hand-woven rag rugs on the floors. The reason given by the Shak- 
ers for this austerity was simply that curtains, pictures, and carpets 
gathered dust. But Shaker furniture was adequate and comfortable. 


The Church Family House of the Shaker colony at Shakertoum, 
Pleasant Hill, Kentucky 

Their chairs, desks, and tables are now highly valued antiques and 
are models for firms manufacturing copies of old furniture. 15 Or- 
derliness was regarded as a domestic virtue next only to cleanliness. 
Every room was provided with a row of pegs about four or five 
feet from the floor, upon which all coats, hats, and bonnets were 
hung. Chairs and other articles of furniture were suspended on 
these pegs while the rooms were cleaned. 

In household appointments and in laborsaving devices the Yankee 
ingenuity of both sexes was given full play. There is scarcely a 
room of the North Family House still in use at Mt. Lebanon that 
does not contain some evidence of clever adaptation of device to 
local necessity. There is, for example, a "cooling room" where re- 
frigeration was provided by running spring water through coils of 
pipes, and there are radiators for heating the house that were in- 
stalled before 1860 according to the specifications made by Elder 
Frederick Evans himself. In the old stone house at Pleasant Hill 
dumb waiters, a huge oven with coils of heating pipes, and apple 
parers and corers bear silent witness to the Shakers' ability to make 
the task of preparing food for a large number as easy as possible. 


Nordhoff mentioned that, although it had been used for thirty 
years when he first saw it, the floor of the great assembly room at 
Mt. Lebanon seemed as bright and new as though it had just been 
laid. He attributed its condition to the fact that whenever they 
came into the room the Shakers wore a soft leather shoe made with- 
out nails or pegs in the sole. He said, 

They have invented many such tricks of housekeeping, and I could see 
that they acted just as a parcel of old bachelors and old maids would, 
anywhere else, in these particulars setting such store by personal com- 
fort, neatness and order; and no doubt thinking much of such minor 
morals. 16 

Regarding charity as one of the cardinal virtues, the Shakers 
were openhanded in their treatment of all who were in need. Early 
in their history, long before there were adequate state institutions 
for orphans or for the children of parents unable to provide their 
support, the Shakers made a practice of adopting children brought 
to them for care. This charity was not entirely disinterested, because 
it was one of the two methods of recruiting members. Many chil- 
dren, in the days of Shaker strength, remained with the society 
after attaining their majority. 

Tramps were never turned away unfed, and curious visitors 
from the outside world were housed and fed in quarters set aside 
for them. The consensus of opinion of such travelers was that the 
accommodations were clean and comfortable and the food plain 
but well cooked and bountiful. Since many of the Shakers were 
vegetarians, a special table was set for those who refused meat, but 
visitors to several of the communities in different periods mention 
that no pork was ever served. The temperance movement began 
early in the Shaker communities, and total abstinence was custom- 
ary. The use of tobacco was permitted but not encouraged, and 
many Shakers abstained from its use, as they did from eating meat, 
as a matter of self -discipline. An elder interviewed each visitor and 
placed at his disposal complete information about the community, 
asking only his respectful attention and his observance of the ordi- 
nary rules of hospitality. Nordhoff quotes an amusing poem that he 
found on the wall of the visitors' dining room at Mt. Lebanon. "Eat 
hearty and decent and clean out your plate" is a summary of its ad- 
vice to visitors! The second of its eight stanzas reads: 


We wish to speak plainly 

And use no deceit; 
We like to see fragments 

Left wholesome and neat: 
To customs and fashions 

We make no pretence; 
Yet think we can tell 

What belongs to good sense. 17 

The children of Shaker communities were well cared for. A 
"care-taker" was appointed for each sex, boys and girls were sep- 
arated, they were dressed in miniature copies of the Shaker cos- 
tume, and their lives were carefully supervised. Little time was left 
for play, but it was not forbidden. Elementary education was pro- 
vided, with separate schoolrooms for boys and girls. Often boys 
were taught in the winter months, girls in the summer. These schools 
were not remarkable in any way but were probably up to the 
standard of local schools of the same period. Higher education was 
not provided or encouraged, because it was thought to cause rest- 
lessness and dissatisfaction. Boys were taught all branches of farm 
work and at least one of the trades or vocations in which the society 
specialized. Girls were early inducted into all the many activities of 
the women of the community, and a dowry was often provided if 
a girl left the family to marry in the world outside the Shaker com- 
munity. Some choice was permitted in the matter of vocation. If a 
young person decided to leave the society upon attaining his ma- 
jority, employment was practically assured him, for his vocational 
education was usually superior to that of others of his social class 
outside the Shaker community. Usually a small sum was given him 
in order that he might not enter the outside world penniless. 

For children and adults alike few books were permitted, and 
even Bible reading does not seem to have been customary. At fam- 
ily meetings excerpts from books, periodicals, and newspapers were 
read by an elder, and some discussion was allowed. Shaker books, 
hymnals, and pamphlets were provided for all, and there were at 
different times several Shaker periodicals; Nordhoff mentions also a 
weekly newspaper. Of cultural life there was little and of the arts 
less; utility and uniformity seem to have been the desire of the 
elders and the safeguards of communism. Individualism was con- 
stantly held in check. 


The Shakers recognized the need for social contacts, however. It 
was not customary for any individual, even an elder, to room alone; 
work was always done in pairs or in groups, of the same sex of 
course, so that there was constant opportunity for exchange of 
ideas. The working day was nearly twelve hours long, ending with 
supper at six; bedtime came at nine, leaving the hours between for 
social affairs and careful provision was made for those hours. 
There was some sort of a meeting each night for worship, for in- 
struction, or for conversation. On one night, usually Monday, there 
were social gatherings of small groups of men and women, six or 
eight sisters sitting in a row talking with a similar line of brothers 
across the room. Conversation was on matters of family or church 
concern, and careful watch prevented the development of any ro- 

Some feminine instinct was probably satisfied by the custom of 
assigning each brother to a sister who became responsible for the 
care of his clothes and his laundry and for general oversight of his 
habits and appearance. Since there were many more women than 
men in most Shaker communities, this custom may have worked 
some injustice. Perhaps the women deprived of this privilege were 
assigned the care of children. No pets were allowed, so the thwarted 
maternal instinct could not get satisfaction by pampering commu- 
nity dogs or cats. 

It was a busy life with little time for contemplation of its barren- 
ness. For many it must have seemed adequate in its peace and se- 
curity. The few upon whom it palled had always the alternative of 


Celibacy and communism were the basic principles of the Shaker 
life, 18 but its unifying, vitalizing center was in its religious service. 
The Shaker believed that worship should be through every possible 
medium and with mind, heart, and body. From the days of the 
French Prophets dancing had been a part of the service. At first 
there was little singing; in the days of Mother Ann a humming ac- 
companiment gave rhythm to the dance. But with the impact of 
Western revivalism the part of song in the Shaker service was rec- 
ognized. Out in the West converts were made from the Methodist 
and Baptist sects, and to the stirring tunes of those sects were set 


words acceptable to the Shakers. New life was given to the dancing 
and marching "labours" when they were accompanied by these 
hymns. Soon they were an important part of all services. 19 Whether 
he expressed his fervor through prayer, preaching, song, or dance, 
every worshiper was expected to participate, Worship was a social 
act, an integral part of communal life. Shaker services were visited 
by many European travelers of the early nineteenth century and 
by innumerable curious Americans, and, since the Shakers them- 
selves rarely wrote of their services, the accounts of these contem- 
porary observers have been drawn upon for details. Many of the 
accounts were so fully illustrated with sketches and drawings that 
the services can be reconstructed with some accuracy. 

In the early 1830*8 De Tocqueville and De Beaumont visited the 
Lebanon colony and attended the Shaker service, which must have 
been strange indeed to their Catholic eyes. De Beaumont dismissed 
the whole service with the laconic comment, "They are mad"; De 
Tocqueville was more descriptive: 

They placed themselves two by two in a curving line, so that the men 
and women made but a single circle. They then held their elbows 
against the body, stretched out their fore arms and let their hands hang, 
which gave them the air of trained dogs who are forced to walk on 
their hind legs. Thus prepared, they intoned an air more lamentable 
than all the others, and began to turn about the room, an exercise 
which they continued during a good quarter hour. 20 

The aristocratic Mrs. Basil Hall found the service uninteresting and 
wrote, "I hardly think they were worth the trouble of a dusty drive 
of sixteen miles on a hot day," 21 and a young American of the 
period observed, "Two more spectacles like that and I become a 
Catholic!" Captain Marryat, who visited them in 1839, described 
the dance as a rhythmical advancing and retreating of two rows 
starting about ten feet apart, singing the while a wordless sort of 
chant that went "Law, law, de lawdel law." The much-traveled 
Captain felt the Shaker dance fell far short of any aesthetic ideal. 22 
The ever-critical Thomas Hamilton saw little to praise in Shak- 
erism, but he reported verbatim a brief address by an elder whose 
complaints he felt were valid. Said the speaker to the visitors in the 

Strangers, I would address myself to you. What motives brought you 


to this place of worship, I know not. Some may have come to join in 
our devotions, but the greater part of you, I fear, have come only to 
see the peculiarities of our worship. To this we do not object. We 
court no concealment in anything we do, but we demand of you in 
return, that you offer no indecent interruption to our religious solem- 
nities. I beseech you to remember that we are Christians like your- 
selves, that we are engaged in offering adoration to the Great God who 
fashioned us all as we are. If you do not respect us, respect yourselves, 
and however ridiculous our forms may seem to you, we entreat you 
will at least not interrupt our devotional exercises by any demonstra- 
tion of contempt. 28 

Cooper, on the other hand, who visited the Shakers at about this 
same time, found little to condemn in the service, which, he said, 
was fitted to the poor and ignorant who composed the community. 
The dancing, he thought, was grave and solemn, and without excite- 
ment. The singing was in time to the dance though in a "villainous 
nasal cadency," and the whole service was quiet and inoffensive. 24 
In 1838 Horace Greeley spent a Sunday with the Shakers and came 
home enthusiastic about their sincerity and about the "homeliness" 
and cooperative enterprise of the service. He called the Watervliet 
community an Arcadia and a democrat's paradise and found noth- 
ing offensive, although much that seemed too idealistic to be prac- 
ticable, in their teachings. 25 

Two or three years later the accounts changed. Both singing and 
dancing had become more violent, and a strange excitement had 
appeared in the service. About 1841 James Silk Buckingham wrote 
that after a quiet devotional beginning in which some of the con- 
gregational testimonies were in the nature of spiritualistic revela- 
tionsthe "labour" of dancing began, with hymns set to very 
lively tunes. Then the injunction in the following verse was liter- 
ally obeyed: 

Perpetual blessings do demand 

Perpetual praise on every hand; 

Then leap for joy, with dance and song, 

To praise the Lord for ever. 

One hymn was set to the tune of "Scots wha' ha'e wi' Wallace 
bled," sung so rapidly that the dance was a quickstep. Another was 
to the air of the less respectable old English song, "Nancy Daw- 
son," and "to this lively and merry tune, the whole body, now 


formed into three abreast . . . literally scampered round the room 
in a quick gallopade, every individual of both the choir and the 
dancers, singing with all their might. . . ." After several such dances 
the participants seemed ungovernable in their ecstasy, and about 
half a dozen women 

whirled themselves round, in what opera dancers call a pirouette, per- 
forming at least fifty revolutions each their arms extended horizon- 
tally, their clothes being blown out like an air balloon all around their 
persons their heads sometimes falling on one side, and sometimes 
hanging forward on the bosom till they would at length faint away 
in hysterical convulsions and be caught in the arms of the surrounding 
dancers. 26 

Two or three years later when Charles Dickens visited the Shak- 
ers and asked to see a church service, his request was refused with 
the statement that no religious meeting was open to the public, and 
he departed with his desire unsatisfied, leaving as record of his visit 
only the disapproving comment, "We walked into a grim room, 
where several grim hats were hanging on grim pegs, and the time 
was grimly told by a grim clock which uttered every tick with a 
kind of struggle, as if it broke the grim silence reluctantly, and un- 
der protest." 27 The prohibition on all visitors extended from 1842 
to 1845, but they were not again welcome for some time after that. 
It is not until the 1850*5 that descriptions of Shaker services were 
again published, and then the accounts were like those of the early 
thirties. The service is called "dignified, sincere, and beautiful," and 
the music "simple and melodious." 28 Throughout the rest of the 
nineteenth century decorum and solemn ritualism form the keynote 
of all reports. 

Somewhere from the depths of human nature and human needs 
there had come into the Shaker communities about 1837 a wild 
burst of the spiritualism that was inherent in Shaker doctrine. For 
six or seven years it ran its course, affecting every community and 
revolutionizing its service and its communal life. As in the case of 
the Rochester rappers a decade later, the movement began among 
the children. At Watervliet little girls were seized with "shaking 
and turning exercises." They held conversations with spirits and 
sang songs taught them by angelic visitants. The contagion spread 
to all the Shaker communities, and soon it swept like a revival over 


those of all ages. By 1838 it was in full tide, with trances, visitations, 
jerks, and revelations the order of every service. It is no wonder 
that the perplexed and half-disapproving ministry decided to close 
all services to the public. 

The day of the child mediums was soon over. Then adults, mostly 
women, received written and oral messages from spirits of famous 
dead and dictated songs and even books revealed or inspired from 
the other world. 29 These mediums claimed the gift of unknown 
tongues and were reported to speak in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Span- 
ish, and Chinese although doubtless quite unintelligibly to stu- 
dents of the languages. 

North American Indians were frequent spirit visitors coming to 
learn of the Shakers the way to salvation. The songs revealed by 
them vary from the jargon of 

Quo ve lorezum quuni 

qui quini qure quini que 
Hock a nick a hick nick . . . 

to the Indian gift song that appeared at Harvard, Massachusetts, 
during this spiritual excitement: 

Me hab brat you lub and Wampum 
Me hab brat you cake and wine 
Me hab brat you many presents 
Dat will make de whity shine 
Do receive de pretty presents 
Jest de best dat we can bring 
Modder's pretty shiny children 
O how dood to take us in. 80 

Negro and Chinese visitants contributed their doggerel, while many 
of the "unknown tongues" resembled no language at all but were 
just a repetition of syllables strung together in such a way as to 
furnish a dance rhythm. 

Despite its extravagances there was much that was beautiful in 
the spiritualistic expression of the revival spirit. Those with deep 
religious feeling and sufficient imagination tried constantly to subli- 
mate all this wild emotion and to keep its outpourings within chan- 
nels befitting religious experience. In 1842 word went out from Mt. . 
Lebanon that each society should select a site on a hill or mountain 
top for outdoor festivals. Known as "fountains" or "feast-grounds" 


these remote plots were the scenes of services made up of dance, 
song, and seance. 81 At appointed times the whole community 
would climb the hill to receive the blessings, gifts, and communica- 
tions brought them by the mediums. Wholly imaginary gifts of 
food, jewels, and clothing were enjoyed with appropriate gestures 
and signs of pleasure. At the end of several hours of ecstatic if fan- 
tastic communication with the spirit world, the weary assemblage 
wound its way down the hill to the quiet village below and resumed 
the routine labors whose dullness had been for the time forgotten. 
Communal participation in the spirit-inspired revival was effected 
through the peculiar "gifts" that were prescribed by the mediums. 
The "sowing gift" involved a march of all brethren and sisters 
through the fields sowing imaginary seeds of blessing. The gift of 
healing was especially active at this time, and numerous accounts 
of faith healing are extant, "Mother Ann's Sweeping Gift" was a 
work of spiritual cleansing in which four men and four women 
went from room to room through every dwelling, praying and 
singing in each room. The "Midnight Cry" was the effort, repeated 
each year for a decade, of a band of "instruments" in each commu- 
nity, who went through the buildings at midnight, singing and call- 
ing on the society to assemble and worship. All these performances 
were said to have been ordered by Mother Ann and the first elders 
as preparation for the reception of higher spiritual truths, and while 
the fever lasted they probably did keep interest alive. 82 

After 1844 the excitement diminished, almost all the mediums 
returned to normal life, and the revivalism induced by spirit visi- 
tants gradually died out. According to Shaker authorities the with- 
drawal of the spirits was but temporary. They professed to have 
work for a season "among the inhabitants of Zion." After that 
period they promised to return to their earthly labors, when "not a 
palace nor a hamlet upon earth should remain unvisited by them." 88 
When the Rochester manifestations began in 1848, the Shakers 
hailed them as a fulfillment of that promise. 


The spiritualistic fervor of the period from 1837 to ^45 and 
the period of greatest growth and greatest economic achievement 
were coincident, but the economic development of Shakerism long 


outlived the days of spirit visitants. Agriculture was the basis of 
Shaker economic and social life as it was that of a large part of the 
"world outside" in the first half century of the republic. The first 
Shaker societies were established in regions suitable for farming, and 
the early converts were, for the most part, farming people. Agricul- 
ture became for them both a means of livelihood and a sacred call- 
ing. The elders of the society firmly believed that "every commune, 
to prosper, must be founded, as far as industry goes, on agriculture. 
Only the simple labors and manners of a farming people can hold a 
community together." 84 

The clearing and cultivation of the soil, the cutting of wood for 
fuel, and the sowing and harvesting of the crops utilized a large 
part of the labor of the men in the early days of each society, since 
the Shaker church moved westward with the frontier. Cooking, 
cleaning, spinning, weaving, and sewing filled the days of the 
women, upon whom fell also the work of garden, dairy, and laun- 
dry. But many hands, careful management, and the advantages of 
large-scale production and communal living soon brought agricul- 
tural produce more than sufficient to satisfy the needs of the so- 

From the first years the Shakers practiced diversified agriculture, 
intensive farming, and division of labor. The early records show 
that wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, flax, and potatoes were the first 
crops at Mt. Lebanon and that within a decade of the founding of 
that society three thousand bushels of potatoes a year were being 
harvested. Corn, apples, and other .products were dried, special gar- 
dens were set aside for the production of seeds and herbs, and 
Shaker dairy products were prepared for market. Huge barns were 
built; breeds of domestic animals were improved by the importation 
of superior strains of cattle and sheep; poultry and bees were kept. 
The various branches of agriculture were managed by persons 
"farm deacons," "orchard deacons," "herb deacons" who by call- 
ing and long experience became wise in both the production of 
goods and the vagaries of the markets. 85 At the same time deeply 
religious and dependent upon the soil, the Shaker came to believe 
that there was a close connection between his faith and his day's 
work. As one observer put it, they felt that "if you would have a 
lovely garden, you should live a lovely life.' 

, "86 



Shaker women preparing medicinal herbs 

It was not long before the community authorities decided that 
complete self-sufficiency was not necessary or wise. Instead advan- 
tage was taken of demand for certain products, and attention was 
concentrated on their production even though the society must then 
purchase from the "world's people" other goods to meet their needs. 
In many societies these special products were garden seeds, herbs, 
and drugs. With their passion for doing useful things and for bene- 
fiting the world at large by their efforts, the Shakers came to feel a 
special duty or calling in their medicinal herb industry. At first they 
used wild herbs mostly; in later years they imported and naturalized 
many foreign herbs. Before the middle of the nineteenth century 
the Shaker societies were among the country's greatest producers 
of seeds and herbs. They made their own bottles, jars, boxes, bags, 
and labels, and invented and manufactured many devices used in 
preparing these goods for market. 

Another industry based upon agriculture was that of drying 
vegetables and fruits for winter use. Tanning of leather and cloth- 
making soon were using far more raw products than Shaker farms 
furnished, and surpluses were made for sale outside. Broom- and 
brush-making were common; baskets and many-sized oval wooden 
boxes were products peculiar to certain communities; the manufac- 
ture of palm leaf and straw bonnets was an important Shaker indus- 


try, and many a feminine head in the "world outside" was crowned 
by this demure headgear. Shaker cloaks were popular, also, and 
blankets, hand-woven carpeting, and woolen cloth were sold. Cer- 
tain communities won a reputation for special products, which found 
a market in other, societies and outside as well. Mt. Lebanon, for 
instance, has always been known for the excellence of its cabinet 
work, and the chairs from the workshops there are things of beauty 
as well as of utility. Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, grew silk worms and 
made silk kerchiefs that were highly desired by the sisters of distant 

Of Yankee stock, the early Shakers possessed inventive ability, 
and their workshops and kitchens were filled with evidences of their 
ingenuity in saving steps and labor. They have claimed many inven- 
tions as their own, although the fact that they did not generally 
acquire patents made it easy for others to obtain the credit and 
profit resulting from them. The Shaker historians, Anna White and 
Leila Taylor, gave an impressive list of inventions and ended by 
stating that if it were extended to "little labor saving contrivances 
about the dwellings, shops and barns [it] would seem endless." The 
important inventions claimed by the Shakers include the buzz saw 
and cut nails (both invented by a woman), the screw propeller, the 
rotary harrow, the metallic pen, the threshing machine (1815), 
the common clothes pin, an apple parer, and a revolving oven. 87 

The Shaker family was the industrial as well as the agricultural 
unit, and the deacons and trustees watched over all activities. The 
families were large enough to get whatever advantages accrue from 
cooperative production and division of labor. Families traded with 
each other, pooled their knowledge, and cooperated in their efforts. 
The deacons arranged for agencies outside, sent out peddlers, and 
even established wholesale houses for their more important goods. 
The Shakers maintained local stores in the communities and bar- 
tered with neighboring farmers for the products they needed. The 
whole system was amazingly productive, showing, as Andrews says, 
the advantages of corporate effort in a period when the country at 
large was in the era of small-scale production and individual enter- 
prise. For many years the central ministry at Mt. Lebanon and 
many of the community elders were men of great ability with a 
genius for organization. The rank and file of Shakers were indus- 


trious, obedient, and devoted. The result was an increase in the 
value of their properties and a rise in their living standards to the 
highest point compatible with their austere way of life. 

It is difficult to make any estimate of Shaker wealth. Their pro- 
duction was great and their sales were large, but the margin of 
profit seems to have been small. Their moral code forbade excessive 
charges for what seemed to them a service or duty. Sharp practices 
were foreign to their dealings, and they were forbidden to specu- 
late or to contract debts of any description. It is probable that too 
much of their capital was invested in land at least, the elders in a 
later period felt that the outlying farms were a liability and with 
the advent of the machine age much of their equipment became 
obsolete and their early advantage of large-scale production was 
lost. The peak of Shaker industry, or enterprise, and wealth came 
in the period 1830-60, the years in which their numbers also were 
the greatest. 

Two comments by visitors may serve as summary. One was by 
Harriet Martineau, the distinguished English traveler, who visited 
the Hancock community in 1837: 

There is no question of their entire success as far as wealth is con- 
cerned. A very moderate amount of labour has secured to them in per- 
fection all the comforts of life that they know how to enjoy, and as 
much wealth besides as would command the intellectual luxuries of 
which they do not dream. The earth does not show more flourishing 
fields, gardens and orchards, than theirs. ... If happiness lay in bread 
and butter, and such things these people have attained the summum 
bonum* ... If such external provision, with a great amount of accu- 
mulated wealth besides, is the result of cooperation and community of 
property among an ignorant, conceited, inert society like this, what 
might not the same principles of association achieve among a more 
intelligent set of people, stimulated by education and exhilarated by 
the enjoyment of all the blessings which Providence has placed within 
the reach of man? ** 

With less of the reformer's criticism and perhaps more understand- 
ing of the religious aspects of Shakerism, another who visited the 
community twenty years later wrote: 

I am convinced, from observation and from the testimony of their 
immediate neighbors, that they live in strict accordance with their 
professions. They are hospitable to strangers, and kind and benevolent 


toward the community around them. In morals and citizenship they 
are above reproach; and they are loved by those who know them best. 
They have been ridiculed and maligned by those who must have been 
either ignorant or wicked; for it seems impossible for any candid man, 
after becoming acquainted with their character, to regard them other- 
wise than with the deepest sympathy and respect. Surely the sacrifices 
of the dearest interests of earth are sufficient guarantees of their sin- 
cerity. 89 


American Utopias of Religious Origin 

Alongside the transplanted European cults for which community 
of property and enterprise was, at least in its inception, only an 
expedient circumstance, developed a number of Utopian experi- 
ments in which some form of socialism or communism was voluntar- 
ily established as a cardinal article of faith. The chief reason for 
their existence was the urgent desire of their founders to create 
for themselves a Utopia that might serve as nucleus or model for a 
new and better social order. These experiments were a protest 
against the evils found in a world where modern industrialization 
and mechanization were beginning to have effect; they were at the 
same time an expression of the optimistic faith in the perfectibility 
of human institutions that was characteristic of the period. They 
represent to some extent a desire to escape from certain unpleasant 
features of the life of the day, but even more they demonstrate the 
zeal for reform that was the heritage of revivalism. In communal life 
those of like mind might solve the problems of the day. 

These Utopian societies fall into two groups, one drawing its in- 
spiration from the teachings of religion, the other from the ideas of 
two Old World reformers, Robert Owen and Charles Fourier. Al- 
though only a few of these experiments can be described in this 
chapter and the next, there were in all more than fifty of them in 
nineteenth-century America. As Emerson wrote to Carlyle in the 
autumn of 1840, "We are all a little wild here with numberless proj- 
ects of social reform. Not a reading man but has a draft of a new 
community in his waistcoat pocket." 


One of the better known of the American ventures in Christian 
Socialism was the Hopedale Community near Milford, Massachu- 
setts. Its founder and guiding spirit was the Reverend Adin Ballou, 
a minister of the Universalist church and a relative of one of its 
founders. More radical than many of his colleagues, he had long 
been known as a champion of the temperance, antislavery, and 
peace movements. He was a correspondent of Dr. Charming and a 
co-worker with Theodore Parker and William Lloyd Garrison. 

1 66 


Sometime before 1840 he became convinced "that it was one of the 
declared objects of Christ's labors to inaugurate the kingdom of 
heaven on the earth; and that it was the imperative duty of his dis- 
ciples to pray and to work earnestly for that sublime end, as one of 
the best preliminaries to immortal blessedness." * 

Ballou believed New Testament teachings could be "actualized," 
and he invited others who felt as he did to join him in a settlement 
where religion and socialism would combine to achieve a Utopia 
that might start a world movement toward a more perfect life. As 
a means to this end he began the publication of a biweekly paper 
called the Practical Christian, the first number of which appeared 
in April 1840, and the last just twenty years later. The history of 
the Hopedale Community falls within those twenty years. 

Within a year some thirty men and women responded to Adin 
Bailouts call, and, after a careful study of previous communistic 
settlements and of socialistic principles in general, they drew up a 
constitution for "Fraternal Communism" that is a reformer's docu- 
ment from beginning to end. After a preliminary declaration in 
favor of temperance, peace, chastity, nonviolence, and various other 
reforms, the constitution provided for "personal equality irrespec- 
tive of sex, color, occupation, wealth, rank, or any other natural or 
adventitious peculiarity." Family life was to be maintained, with 
separate lodgings for each family if it so desired. Pure communism 
was rejected in favor of a system called "joint stock proprietor- 
ship," by which negotiable shares of fifty dollars each were to be 
sold to those desiring to join the enterprise. Whenever a stockholder 
might wish to convert his stock it was to be offered to the other 
stockholders; failing a purchaser, the community agreed to buy it 
at par value out of funds set aside for that purpose. If the commu- 
nity prospered dividends were to be paid on the stock. The mem- 
bers were to live and work together; "suitable employment" was to 
be provided for every individual man, woman, and child at a 
fixed scale of wages based upon (for adults) an eight-hour day 
and forty-eight hour week. The officers of the community, to be 
chosen by the stockholding members, were to include, besides the 
usual president and secretary, six "intendants" to whom the various 
branches of community life and industry were to be entrusted. 2 

This constitution was sent out to many persons known to be in- 


terested in reform movements and was met with mingled sympathy, 
approval, caution, and admonition. The dean of all New England 
preachers, Dr. William Ellery Channing, acclaimed the ends for 
which the community was to be established, saying, 

I have for a very long time dreamed of an association, in which the 
members, instead of preying on one another and seeking to put one 
another down, after the fashion of this world, should live together as 
brothers, seeking one another's elevation and spiritual growth. But the 
materials for such a community I have not seen. 

After that rueful comment, Channing went on to list the obstacles 
in the way of success, the chief being the "difficulty of reconciling 
so many wills, of bringing so many individuals to such a unity of 
feeling and judgment as is necessary to the management of an ex- 
tensive common concern." 8 Many years later, when the Hopedale 
Community had failed in that effort to reconcile individualism and 
communal interests, Adin Ballou regretfully acknowledged that 
Dr. Channing was one of the wisest men he had ever known. The 
very difficulties that Channing suggested, Ballou wrote, "we were 
obliged to encounter, spite of all our sanguine hopes and resolves, 
and they finally proved too much for our virtue and wisdom. In- 
stead of rising above and overcoming them, we were in the end 
overcome by them/' 4 

In 1841 farm land was purchased, and a few families gathered to- 
gether in the old farm buildings to make a beginning of the new 
Utopia. At first there were many discouragements, the joint stock 
sold slowly, members were few, the old buildings were uncomfort- 
able and inadequate, and there were many disputes about principles 
and objectives. But slowly the movement grew; influential friends 
gave it publicity; and funds and new members came in to ensure its 
survival. Within a decade the community owned five hundred acres 
of farm land not all arable to be sure and had built thirty new 
dwellings, three mechanic shops with water power and machinery, 
a chapel, barns, and other buildings. The number of families had 
grown to thirty-six, and the total population of the village was 
nearly two hundred. 

In a prospectus written by Mr. Ballou in 1851 the purposes of 
the society as finally formulated were clearly set forth, and its fun- 
damental differences from the religious communities described in 


the preceding chapters were evident. No person could be a member 
of the community who could not "cordially assent" to a "simple 
declaration of faith in the religion of Jesus Christ" and who would 
not acknowledge "subjection to all the moral obligations of that re- 
ligion." Beyond that simple basis for joint effort there were no 
religious qualifications. 

Each individual is left to judge for him or herself, with entire freedom, 
what abstract doctrines are taught, and also what external religious 
rights are enjoined in the religion of Christ. ... In such matters all 
the members are free, with mutual love and toleration, to follow their 
own highest convictions of truth and religious duty. . . . But in prac- 
tical Christianity this Church is precise and direct. There its essentials 
are specific. It insists on supreme love to God and man. 

Then follows a long list of the "practical" reforms advocated re- 
form movements by no means peculiar to the society and so evi- 
dence of the fact that Hopedale was a part of the whole wave of 
social reform. Profanity, unchasrity, intemperance, slaveholding, 
war, capital punishment, mobocracy, personal violence, military 
service in short, "all things known to be sinful against God or 
human nature" were condemned as contrary to "obligatory right- 
eousness." Calling Hopedale a "miniature Christian Republic," the 
prospectus went on to state that it was a "universal religious, moral, 
philanthropic, and social reform Association" and a Missionary So- 
ciety, a Temperance Society, an Anti-Slavery Society, a Peace 
Society, and a Woman's Rights Association. Its socialism was la- 
beled "Christian," and its great aim was stated as the "harmoniza- 
tion of just individual freedom with social co-operation." The 
liberality and tolerance of the Hopedale Community were ex- 
pressed in the statement: 

Let each class of dissenting socialists stand aloof from our Republic and 
experiment to their heart's content on their own wiser systems. It is 
their right to do so uninjured, at their own cost. It is desirable that 
they should do so in order that it may be demonstrated as soon as pos- 
sible which the true social system is. When the radically defective have 
failed there will be a harmonious concentration of all the true and good 
around the Practical Christianity Standard. 

Written in the period of the greatest success of the society, mid- 
way between its founding and its end, this statement of creed and 
policy breathes forth the sincerity, high moral principles, and re- 


forming zeal of its authors, but it also expresses the extreme individ- 
ualism that was the greatest weakness of the experiment. From the 
first there were disputes and debates at Hopedale. Those who had 
invested in the community stock wanted dividends and privileges 
commensurate with their investment. A second group desired a sub- 
stitution of communism for the joint-stock socialism and the aboli- 
tion of all evidences of capitalism. When the dissatisfied seceded 
and there were many seceders the society's practice of purchasing 
their stock and refunding their capital caused financial embarrass- 
ment for the community. Under pressure, amendments were made 
to the constitution to permit greater economic freedom to the mem- 
bers. Those who wished to invest labor and capital in the joint 
enterprise might do so; he who wished to "transact business by 
himself, as may please him" was equally free; and between the two 
extremes there were some who owned stock but conducted private 
enterprises on the side. 5 The same compromises were made all along 
the line in the use and payment of child labor, in education, in 
housing, and in community business. 

For some years, however, the community made progress toward 
economic success. Most members were honest and devoted and did 
their best to make the experiment succeed, and the advantages of 
cooperative economy and fairly large-scale production brought 
profits of a sort. 'Starting from very little in 1842, the joint-stock 
investment in 1856 was $40,000, and the individual property of 
members, nearly all produced at Hopedale, was $90,000. When the 
community affairs were wound up all debts were paid, and no one 
could be said to have lost much financially from the sixteen years 
of united effort. If all two hundred members had had sufficient in- 
terest at the end to continue the project, there is little reason to 
suppose that the same moderate success might not have continued. 
It seems safe to say that the failure was at least partly due to lack of 
zeal or lack of will to continue. The energetic developed their pri- 
vate ventures; the unambitious seemed satisfied to put in no more 
time or labor than was essential to keep the community above 
water. There was no growth and little vitality. 

The end came unexpectedly. As the joint stock had been offered 
for sale, two enterprising brothers, Ebenezer and George Draper, 
had bought it up, until they owned three fourths of the entire stock. 


Ebenezer Draper became president of the community when Adin 
Ballou resigned in 1853, confident at last of the success of his ex- 
periment in practical Christianity and worn out by his labors in its 
behalf. But only three years later the brothers Draper decided that 
the community business was no longer profitable and that their 
funds would be more productive if transferred to their private en- 
terprises. They proposed, therefore, to close out the community 
while it was still a going concern, to pay all its debts and wind up 
all its business. The fact of the matter was that the more dominant 
brother, George Draper, had made up his mind that the socialistic 
scheme was impracticable and was determined to withdraw from it 
at once. That decision sealed the doom of the community. The 
other members had no alternative except to yield, for they could 
not command sufficient capital to buy the stock of the Draper 

Others must have felt "the deathlike chill" that Ballou said "set- 
tled upon and almost froze my heart" when the aspirations and the 
labor of their best years thus came to naught. But it is doubtful 
that they all rose above their mortification and disappointment, as 
he did, to a philosophic level where they could analyze their failure 
and come to some conclusions as to the factors that caused it. Ballou 
always believed that the Hopedale Community had been founded 
upon fundamental principles that were true for all time. About its 
defects he said: 

It is my deliberate and solemn conviction that the predominating cause 
of the failure . . . was a moral and spiritual, not a financial one a 
deficiency among its members of those graces and powers of character 
which are requisite to the realization of the Christian ideal of human 

His statement of secondary causes and his advice to those who might 
wish to try such an experiment under better auspices were pene- 
trating and wise. His statement, "The work of Social Reform is by 
no means abandoned; it is only suspended till the world is fitted 
by intellectual growth and spiritual elevation to take it up again and 
prosecute it to successful results," 6 may be repeated as an epitaph 
for this truly American experiment in communal living a Utopia 
and a failure but a fitting expression of the spirit of the land of the 



Different from the Hopedale Community in almost every way, 
except that it, too, represented an effort to establish a new way of 
life, the experiment of Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane at Fruit- 
lands has a place in the story of American Utopias. As an episode in 
the life of the "Transcendental Talker" it loomed large, for in all 
sincerity he and his few associates endeavored to plant an earthly 
paradise in which their dreams might be realized. But since the en- 
tire history of the undertaking covered only a few months and 
touched the lives and expressed the aspirations of only a small 
group, it cannot be considered an important manifestation of the 
zeal for reform. Even its failure as an attempt at communal life had 
little significance, since the principles upon which the experiment 
rested were never fully formulated, apparently, in the somewhat 
confused minds of those who were responsible for it. 7 
* In 1842 Alcott came back from the trip to England that had 
been planned to bring him out of the despondency occasioned by 
the failure of his Temple School in Boston. His theories on educa- 
tion and on life in general had had a respectful hearing abroad, 
where his ideas and his reputation as a Transcendentalist philoso- 
pher were better known than his failures. Conversation with Eng- 
lish friends who were reformers of a universal if not practical 
variety had led Alcott to believe, as he wrote in his journal, 

Our freer, but yet far from freed, land is the asylum, if asylum there 
be, for the hope of man; and, there, if anywhere, is the second Eden 
to be planted in which the divine seed is to bruise the head of Evil and 
restore Man to his rightful communion with God in the Paradise of 

The doubt expressed by the conditional mood in this excerpt disap- 
peared in an engulfing enthusiasm that caused him to throw himself 
without reservation into an attempt to create a Transcendentalisms 
Eden. The failure of the attempt left him crushed and exhausted, 
anxious to die rather than face a world from which hope and dreams 
had departed. 

Among Alcott's English friends was Charles Lane, an enigmatic 
figure whose personality and ideas were to have effect both upon 
the Alcott family and the history of Utopias. Lane, who came to 
the United States with Alcott in 1842, was an English mystic and 


reformer whose life presents such inconsistencies and contrasts that 
it is difficult to arrive at any explanation of its paradoxes. He urged 
the celibate life upon the Alcott family and placed his son in the 
Shaker settlement of Harvard, but soon afterward he remarried and 
started a new family, which eventually included five more children. 
He had countless theories on education and the care of children and 
yet was so coldly forbidding that the Alcott children learned to 
hate and fear him. While proclaiming the United States a "freer 
world," he proceeded to advocate, in the cause of reform, the over- 
throw of the American government. Such was the strange partner 
Alcott had selected for his venture. And the partner bade fair to 
become the master, for it was Lane's money that paid Alcott's debts 
and purchased the land needed for the new Eden. 

These Utopians bought ninety acres of farm land in a beautiful 
valley near the village of Harvard about fifty miles from Concord. 
The house was not a part of the purchase but was given rent-free 
for a year, and was furnished with the household equipment of the 
Alcott family supplemented by contributions from others who 
joined the community. Lane and his son and the Alcotts and their 
four small daughters moved out to their new home, which Alcott 
named Fruitlands, in the spring of 1843. There they were joined 
by a group, always small and never for long exactly the same, that 
included, among others, the Englishman, H. C. Wright; Isaac 
Hecker, New York baker and champion of American labor, at that 
time a Transcendentalist, later a Catholic priest; Anna Page, who 
sometimes acted as the children's governess; Abram Wood, who 
persuaded his friends to call him Wood Abram; and Joseph Palmer, 
Fitchburg farmer and the only practical man of the lot.* 

The iron will of Charles Lane was apparent in the asceticism 
that was inaugurated for the whole household, and the judgment of 
Lane was accepted in the matter of farm economy, although his 

* In a day when beards were unfashionable Palmer became known as "the man 
with a beard." No amount of ridicule could bring him to dispense with the adorn- 
ment, which he felt would not have been his if the Lord had not wanted man to 
wear beards. He was an antislavery man and a total abstainer, and his advocacy of 
prison reform was based upon firsthand knowledge, for he was in prison more 
than a year for assaulting those who taunted him about his beard. After the failure 
of Fruitlands, Palmer bought the property from Lane and lived there the rest of 
his life. It was his beautiful furniture that made the old house charming in 1843 and 
that has since been brought back to it in the restoration for which Clara Ehdicott 
Sears was responsible. 


knowledge of rural life had been gained from a study of market 
prices in the city of London. Dogmatic, full of the ideas of Euro- 
pean social reformers, and, temporarily at least, determined upon 
the denial of every natural desire, Lane drove the little colony 
along the path he had mapped out for it. Frivolity and pleasure 
were to be denied even the children, whose every hour was to be 
spent in work, study, and the contemplation of higher things. But 
the Alcotts enjoyed their charming little birthday festivals and the 
letters and poems that punctuated their family intercourse. And at 
any hour of the day, long Conversations in the Alcott manner 
might deal with such topics as friendship, innocence, or fidelity. 

Potatoes, apples, and whole wheat bread were the staples of diet 
at Fruitlands, although there seems to have been no condemnation 
of other fruits and vegetables. Producing them, however, was diffi- 
cult, for Lane was as opposed to the use of beasts of burden as he 
was to human slavery; "spade culture" must suffice. Cotton was the 
product of slave labor, and the use of wool deprived the sheep of 
their property; therefore the inhabitants of Fruitlands wore linen 
smocks and trousers or in the case of Mrs. Alcott, Miss Page, and 
the children the garments later made famous by Amelia Bloomer. 
Bathing in cold water was considered desirable if indeed the meth- 
ods of housekeeping did not make it necessary and the men used 
the brook while the children were bathed in a homemade shower 
that involved sheets draped over a circle of clothesline, a ladder 
(for their father), a pail of cold water, and a sieve. Contemporary 
accounts do not mention the methods used by Mrs. Alcott and Miss 

Expeditions to carry the new gospel to the outside world per- 
haps in the hope that the world might contribute to the cost of the 
experiment resulted in the neglect of the one food crop that 
seemed to offer sustenance for the winter, and had it not been for 
the labor of Mrs. Alcott and the children even these few precious 
acres of barley would have gone unharvested. As an economic ven- 
ture Fruitlands presents little of interest to posterity. 

The relations between the Alcotts and Charles Lane grew stead- 
ily worse, until Mrs. Alcott and the children came to regard him 
as the author of all their woes. The lack of any prospect of success, 
or indeed of food, led all the others - except the faithful Joseph 


Palmer to disappear one at a time in the autumn of 1843. Mr. 
Lane and his son became more and more interested in the Shaker 
settlement near by and spent much of their time there. It became 
obvious, even to Alcott, that the experiment, so hopefully if un- 
realistically begun, must end in failure. In November the diary of 
little Louisa Alcott records, "Father and Mr. Lane had a talk, and 
Father asked us if we saw any reason for us to separate. Mother 
wanted to, she is so tired. I like it, but not the school part, nor Mr. 
Lane." 8 

A few weeks later, in January 1844, Charles Lane and his son 
went to live with the Shakers. Their departure, which signified the 
failure of the Fruitlands venture, came at a time when Alcott was 
desperately ill. It is difficult to fill in the story of those bleak De- 
cember and January days when the little family was alone in the old 
house, but Louisa's romantic account, The Trariscendental Wild 
Oats, may be taken as worthy of trust in its main outline and gen- 
eral sentiment if not in its detail. After long days through which 
Alcott lay with his face to the wall, wanting only to die with the 
Utopia for which he had had such glorious dreams, the weary wife 
who had watched over his anguish heard his voice again in the one 
word, "Hope." When his strength returned, the family made plans 
to leave Fruitlands and late in January piled their household goods 
on an oxcart and set out for a new home. The conclusion of Louisa's 
semifictionalized account sums up Alcott's aspirations and disap- 
pointment in this Transcendentalist project: 

"Ah, me! my happy dream. How much I leave behind that never 
can be mine again," said Abel [Alcott], looking back at the lost Para- 
dise, lying white and chill in its shroud of snow. . . . "Poor Fruitlands! 
The name was as great a failure as the rest," continued Abel, with a 
sigh, as a frost-bitten apple fell from a leafless bough at his feet. 9 


In a lighter vein, a happy idyll instead of a tragicomedy, is the 
story of the Brook Farm experiment in living. Likewise the product 
of Transcendentalism, Brook Farm is even more difficult than 
Fruitlands to define and classify. It was socialistic rather than com- 
munistic, and its joint-stock system was similar to that of Hopedale. 
Deeply religious in feeling and idealistic in aspiration, its founders 
were Unitarians and Transcendentalists, nonsectarian and tolerant 


of all creeds and faiths. They were men of culture as well, highly 
educated, cognizant of all the movements for reform, full of hu- 
manitarianism, and convinced that a society could be developed 
whose institutions would be the realization of their ideals. 

Life at Brook Farm was simple in all things material, as demo- 
cratic as the New England town meeting in its organization, but 
delightfully varied in its cultural and social aspects. It is no wonder 
that all those who in later years wrote about their experiences at 
Brook Farm concluded that these were the pleasantest, the happi- 
est, the most memorable years of their lives. Even Hawthorne, 
whose Blithedale Romance was the not too complimentary product 
of his brief stay at Brook Farm, alluded in afteryears to his "having 
had the good fortune, for a time to be personally connected with 
it," and hid away in the last chapter of his novel this revealing 

Often in these years that are darkening around me, I remember our 
beautiful scheme of a noble and unselfish life, and how fair in that 
first summer appeared the prospect that it might endure for genera- 
tions, and be perfected, as the ages rolled by, into the system of a 
people and a world. Were my former associates now there were there 
only three or four of those true-hearted men still laboring in the sun - 
I sometimes fancy that I should direct my world-weary footsteps thith- 
erward, and entreat them to receive me for old friendship's sake. More 
and more I feel we struck upon what ought to be a truth. Posterity may 
dig it up and profit by it. 

Brook Farm was, in a sense, a Transcendentalist missionary and 
educational enterprise. Its work was propaganda and example; its 
objective was the creation, in miniature, of a world in which the 
latent possibilities of each member might be realized and the lives 
of all might be complete, fully developed, satisfactory to them- 
selves and to society. This was the first and Transcendentalist phase 
of the experiment. Its idealism lasted on into the later years when 
the leaders were persuaded to transform Brook Farm into a Fou- 
rierist phalanx, so that to the end the society was more Transcen- 
dentalist than socialistic. It was, as one author stated, "the most 
brilliant and fascinating page in the otherwise rather monotonous 
and prosaic history of Fourierist experiments in America." Since it 
was not the outgrowth of poverty or oppression, there was no can- 
kering fear at Brook Farm, nor were there memories of past wrongs 


and apprehensions as to a dubious future to hold the society to- 
gether. It was always psychologically as well as legally a voluntary 
association, and its members remained to the end men of many in- 
terests and intellectual resources who could not be made bankrupt 
in spirit or in mind by the failure of the enterprise. 

The founder of Brook Farm and its mainstay for the six years of 
its existence was George Ripley, Boston Unitarian minister and 
member of the Transcendental Club, but the project seems to 
have been almost as much the joint interest of the entire group as 
was the Dial, its literary review. Not that all of them were entirely 
certain about it. Emerson wrote in his journal, "I wished to be con- 
vinced, to be thawed, to be made nobly mad by the kindlings be- 
fore my eye of a new dawn of human piety. But this scheme was 
arithmetic and comfort. ... a rage in our poverty and politics to 
live rich and gentlemanlike, an anchor to leeward against a. change 
of weather; a prudent forecast on the probable issue of the great 
questions of Pauperism and Poverty/' Margaret Fuller, too, had 
reservations. "I will not throw any cold water," she wrote, "yet I 
wish him [Ripley] the aid of some equal and faithful friend in the 
beginning, the rather that his own mind, though that of a captain, 
is not that of a conqueror." In the end, although she frequently 
visited Brook Farm and was so identified with it that she is sup- 
posed to have been the Zenobia of Hawthorne's novel, she decided 
to "look on and see the coral insects at work." 10 

Ripley 's objectives, as given in his own words, were: 

... to insure a more natural union between intellectual and manual 
labor than now exists; to combine the thinker and the worker, as far as 
possible in the same individual; to guarantee the highest mental free- 
dom, by providing all with labor adapted to their tastes and talents, and 
securing to them the fruits of their industry; to do away with the 
necessity of menial services by opening the benefits of education and 
the profits of labor to all; and thus to prepare a society of liberal, in- 
telligent, and cultivated persons, whpse relations with each other would 
permit a more wholesome and simple life than can be led amidst the 
pressure of our competitive institutions. 11 

The decision to form such a society was made in 1841, and the site 
chosen was the Ellis farm some nine miles from Boston, where Rip- 
ley and his wife had often spent the summer months. The officers 
of the association were to be elected by the shareholders every 


person holding one or more shares to have one vote and were to 
be unpaid except at the rate of one dollar for a ten-hour day when 
they were actually employed in official duties. Every subscriber to 
the joint stock was entitled to the tuition of one child in the com- 
munity school; all labor, manual or otherwise, was to be paid for at 
the same rate per hour; and the work week was to be forty-eight 
hours for the winter months and sixty hours for the summer. Board 
was to be charged against the labor of all adults, with a lower rate 
for children over ten years of age. Children under ten and all per- 
sons over seventy were to receive board without charge, while 
those who came to Brook Farm to attend the school were to be 
charged for board and tuition. It was expected that five per cent 
interest could be paid on each share of stock. 

Whether or not the association thus planned was socialistic is a 
moot question. Some of those most interested in the venture dis- 
claimed any desire for socialism. However, when it was decided, in 
1845, to turn it into a Fourierist phalanx little change in the original 
constitution was deemed necessary. It is certain, moreover, that the 
ideas of its originators envisaged a new attitude toward labor and 
the creation of a society that might be called Utopian. 

At Brook Farm domestic service was abolished as degrading to 
the servitor, and menial labor, both within the household and on the 
farm, was divided among all the members of the society. Haw- 
thorne mentions the fact that a pitchfork was placed in his hands 
on the first day of his residence at Brook Farm and that the manure 
pile was the scene of his first labors. 12 Students in the school were 
required to work with their hands for a part of every day so that 
they, too, might share in the "true relation between labor and the 
people." Whether socialist or not, Brook Farm was certainly a co- 
operative enterprise, Utopian and visionary only in its confidence in 
the constancy and zeal of its members. 

Provided thus with a constitution and a country home, and given 
favorable publicity by the Dial and the words of leading New Eng- 
land writers and clergymen, Brook Farm began its career under 
good auspices. At no time did it lack eager applicants for member- 
ship, 18 and the Brook Farm school was a success from the beginning. 
It was not long before the old farmhouse was inadequate, and new 
living quarters were built. A day nursery, the school, several work- 


shops, and other buildings were constructed. The Nest, the Eyrie, 
Pilgrim House, and the Cottage were built, none of them luxurious 
dwellings, but all comfortable and pleasant enough. When the num- 
ber of residents reached seventy there was again some overcrowd- 
ing, but as one youth said, he never went to his tiny room except 
to sleep, and there was always a jolly crowd in the family living 
rooms. This enlargement of physical plant was quite a substantial 
achievement for the first four years of a new venture, and the fact 
that money had to be borrowed to make this possible was immate- 
rial, since the debt was owed to those interested in the society. 

At first the farm absorbed the attention of the men of the com- 
munity, but they soon found that the land was not productive and 
that their hay and food crops were inadequate and of poor quality. 
When they endeavored to establish a nursery and greenhouse, they 
were confronted with the necessity for expensive fertilizers. As an 
agricultural or horticultural enterprise Brook Farm could not be 
made profitable without tools, equipment, and special skills that 
they could not easily acquire. The community established a print- 
ing press and had its own carpenters and shoemakers, and Isaac 
Hecker, who spent some time also at Fruitlands, plied his trade of 
baker for some months. The advent of a few skilled workmen made 
the manufacture of sashes, doors, and blinds profitable. Some Bri- 
tannia ware also was made but with very little cash result. Indus- 
trially neither as a society nor as a phalanx was Brook Farm a great 
success, and when it was sold in 1 849 the proceeds $ 1 9, 1 50 little 
more than sufficed to pay its debts. 

The schools of Brook Farm present a much brighter picture, and 
there is every reason to suppose that, had all energies been concen- 
trated on education, permanent achievements of a progressive na- 
ture might well have been made. The whole educational project has 
a twentieth-century aspect. There was an infant school for children 
under six years of age, a primary school for those between six and 
ten, and a six-year preparatory course designed to fit students for 
college. In addition, an agricultural course was offered, and every 
effort was made to arrange classes or tutoring for young people 
who wanted special courses or advanced work under certain of die 
instructors. Each student was expected to work two or more hours 
a day at some sort of manual labor, several worked for their board, 


and all were called upon occasionally to assist in waiting on table or 
in the kitchen. 

It was, however, in curriculum and methods of instruction rather 
than in organization that really radical departures from the prac- 
tice of contemporary schools were made. The whole Brook Farm 
system was based upon complete freedom of intercourse between 
students and faculty. They lived and worked together. Advanced 
classes were held informally at any convenient hour, and the con- 
tacts of student and instructor were many and varied. Education, in 
short, might continue effectively in study, barn, parlor, or work- 
shop. As for the curriculum, there was of course the customary 
emphasis upon the classics and upon mathematics, but history, mod- 
ern languages, literature, philosophy, and botany were offered as 
well, and they were taught by masters in those fields. Drawing, 
dancing, and music were not neglected; probably for the first time 
in the history of education in America the works of Mozart, Haydn, 
and Beethoven were a part of daily life. Literary and debating so- 
cieties, play production, dramatic readings, and concerts added to 
the educational fare. The faculty was almost uniformly good, in- 
cluding Ripley himself, Charles Dana, John Dwight, and others of 
high reputation. 

Since the Brook Farm school was especially recommended by 
the Harvard faculty as an excellent place to prepare for college and 
since many of the New England intelligentsia were interested in it, 
the list of its thirty or more pupils contained names well known in 
American letters. George Bancroft sent his two sons, Margaret 
Fuller her young brother; Horace Sumner, brother of the famous 
Charles, was there, and also Sarah Stearns, Caroline Kittredge, and 
a son of Orestes Brownson. But George William and Burrill Curtis 
were the best loved leaders of the school, and their active minds and 
wide cultural interests set its tone. 

The visitors to Brook Farm offered another opportunity for lib- 
eral education. Their names make up a list of the cream of American 
letters and thought: Margaret Fuller, Emerson, Parker, Robert 
Owen, Brownson, Greeley, Brisbane, Elizabeth Peabody, Alcott, 
and Charming. Informal talk, formal Conversations, and every sort 
of lecture made the dinner and evening hours occasions to remem- 
ber. Since almost all the older people at Brook Farm were interested 


in some sort of reform movement, groups went into Boston fre- 
quently for meetings where questions of the day were discussed. 
Other excursions were planned for concerts and the theater, and 
Elizabeth Peabody's bookshop in Boston was the meeting place for 
all Brook Farm residents when they went to the city. 

The informality and spontaneity that characterized the educa- 
tional program were carried over into the social life of Brook Farm 
and made it altogether delightful. In his Historic Notes of Life and 
Letters in New England, Emerson wrote a commendation that was 
blended with good-humored criticism: 

The founders of Brook Farm should have this praise, that they made 
what all people try to make, an agreeable place to live in. All comers, 
even the most fastidious, found it the pleasantest of residences. It is cer- 
tain that freedom from household routine, variety of character and 
talent, variety of work, variety of means of thought and instruction, art, 
music, poetry, reading, masquerade, did not permit sluggishness or de- 
spondency; broke up routine. There is agreement that it was to most 
of the associates, education; to many the most important period of their 
life, the birth of valued friendships, their first acquaintance with the 
riches of conversation, their training in behavior. The art of letter writ- 
ing, it is said, was immensely cultivated. Letters were always flying, not 
only from house to house, but from room to room. It was a perpetual 
picnic, a French Revolution in small, an Age of Reason in a patty-pan. 14 

Orestes Brownson, who liked Brook Farm and approved its educa- 
tional theories, said that it was "half a charming adventure, half a 
solemn experiment," and added that it was fun to live there, even 
better to visit. 

As might be expected, there is every evidence that the students 
loved the regime. Every record of their life at Brook Farm pays 
tribute to its charm and to its glorious opportunities for a rich social 
experience. A young English governess, Georgiana Bruce, came to 
Brook Farm to study and worked in the household and the infant 
school for her board and tuition. Her account of her years there 
breathes her delight in the cultural and social life of the society. 

What a royal time we had. The days were full of affection and sun- 
shine. . . . The very air seemed to hold more exhilarating qualities 
than any I had breathed before. Democracy and culture made the ani- 
mus of the association. Had the world denied you opportunity for edu- 
cation? Here your highest needs should be satisfied. . . . What a heav- 
enly world this was getting to be! 15 


The optimism of the whole community is reflected in her remark 
that "no Adventist ever believed more absolutely in the second 
coming of Christ than we in the reorganization of society on a fra- 
ternal basis." 

The unconventionality of Brook Farm social life was commented 
upon by most observers and condemned by a few. The constant 
and friendly visitor, Margaret Fuller, for example, found it hard to 
get used to the fact that in the crowded parlor the young people 
sat on the floor during her Conversations. Thomas Wentworth 
Higginson, who never lived at Brook Farm but visited his cousin 
there, left a record of the gay costume parties, at one of which his 
cousin Barbara appeared in "a pretty Creole dress made of hand- 
kerchiefs from the West Indies," and he spoke with apparent envy 
of the unconventional but gay clothes worn on everyday occasions 
by the Brook Farm boys blouses of gay-colored chintz and "little 
round visorless caps with tassels." 16 He does not mention the fact 
that the workaday costume of Brook Farm girls included short 
skirts or knickers. In his American Notebooks, 1841-1852 Haw- 
thorne described in charming detail one of the gay picnics at the 
Farm where, in honor of Frank Dana's birthday, a rural masquer- 
ade brought into the woods Indian squaws, a fortuneteller, gypsies, 
Diana, foresters, and children of all ages. 17 

It is George William Curtis, however, who, in one of his Easy 
Chair essays in Harper's Monthly, left the most charming picture 
of Brook Farm life: 

The society of Brook Farm was composed of every kind of person. 
There were the ripest scholars, men and women of die most aesthetic 
culture and accomplishment, young farmers, seamstresses, mechanics 
and preachers the lazy, the conceited, the sentimental. But they were 
associated in such a spirit and under such conditions that, with some 
extravagance, the best of everybody appeared, and there was a kind of 
high esprit de corps. . . . There was plenty of steady, essential, hard 
work, for the founding of an earthly paradise upon a rough New Eng- 
land farm is no pastime. But with the best intention, and much practi- 
cal knowledge and industry, and devotion, there was in the nature of 
die cjase an inevitable lack of method, and the economical failure was 
almost a foregone conclusion. But there were never such witty potato- 
patches and such sparkling cornfields before or since. The weeds were 
scratched out of the ground to the music of Tennyson and Browning, 

Brook Farm, the Transcendentalist Utopia 

The dining room at Fruitlands 

From Picrrepont Noycs, My Father's House, 1937, by permission of Farrar and Rinehart 

John Humphrey Noyes, Perfectionist 


and the nooning was an hour as gay and bright as any brilliant midnight 
at Ambrose's. 18 

It is interesting to speculate upon the possible success of Brook 
Farm if the school had been permitted to remain the major interest 
of the association. But the guiding spirits of the Farm were not men 
with only one interest; indeed their minds seem to have been open 
to the call for universal reform. In the beginning there was little 
of socialist theory at the Farm; fraternal association or cooperation 
was the keynote. But Ripley as a Boston clergyman interested in the 
cause of labor had been shocked by the suffering of the people in 
the panic of 1837, and when the works of the French socialist 
Fourier were published in the United States and discussed at Brook 
Farm, Ripley brought some of the New York Fourierists to the Farm 
for lectures and discussion meetings. Albert Brisbane, leading Ameri- 
can Fourierist, and Horace Greeley, whom he had converted to 
socialism, were most interested and appreciative visitors, and through 
their efforts the Brook Farm trustees were won over to the cause 
in 1844. In her Letters from Brook Farm Marianne Dwight told of 
the anxious days when the fateful decision was being made and 
of the care with which the new constitution for a Brook Farm 
Phalanx was worked out. 19 

Under the new constitution Brook Farm was for the first time 
legally incorporated in 1845 and proceeded to borrow money in 
order to establish industries and set up the series or labor groups 
demanded by Fourierist theories. The new government was compli- 
cated. The Farming Series was divided into the Cattle Group, the 
Milking Group, the Planting Group, and so on; the Mechanical Se- 
ries and the Domestic Series were similarly divided; each Group 
elected a chief, and the Group chiefs elected a Series chief. The 
chiefs of all the Series formed a controlling body for the Phalanx. 
This was in effect, and in miniature, a sort of guild socialism, and 
upon it the residents of Brook Farm staked their fortune. 

Given the personnel and the influential friends of Brook Farm, 
it is easy to see what a feather its conversion to formal socialism 
was in the cap of the American Fourierist movement. It was in- 
tended from die beginning to utilize the intellects and literary abili- 
ties of the Farm in the propaganda crusade for the larger movement. 
John Allen, the editor of a periodical called Social Reform, came into 


the society to help in the project, and in June 1845 there appeared 
the first number of the Harbinger, which was for four years the 
most important socialist paper of the day. 

The new publication seemed to be a success in everything ex- 
cept paying its way -and there was a ready hearing everywhere 
for the distinguished lecturers sent out from Brook Farm to act as 
missionaries for the cause of socialism. The school was neglected in 
order to give more attention to the magazine and the struggling 
industries, and there was a plaintive undertone of worry over the 
lack of funds and the increasing indebtedness. In order to attract 
new members and to house the paraphernalia of the Phalanx activi- 
ties, it was deemed advisable to put up a new building much larger 
than anything they had as yet constructed. Begun in 1845, the new 
phalanstery was almost completed in March 1846, and the associa- 
tion was ready to celebrate the beginning of a new and more pros- 
perous era, when all their hopes were dashed by a fire that entirely 
consumed the new building. The seven thousand dollars collected, 
or borrowed, with such great effort were gone; there was no insur- 
ance and little chance of further gifts. Brisbane and Greeley, in- 
terested in newer experiments, 20 found no time or energy for the 
problems of the Brook Farm Phalanx, and bankruptcy seemed in- 
evitable. Membership, too, was falling off, and several cases of 
smallpox added to the difficulties. The year 1846-47 was filled with 
discussion and ended in a sad acceptance of the fact that the end 
must be faced. At a joint meeting of the stockholders and the 
friendly creditors it was decided to dispose of all assets, pay all 
debts, and close the books of what had been the brightest and hap- 
piest of American Utopias. 


The belief in the possibility of human perfection appeared in the 
teaching of all the faiths that preached the importance of conversion 
and of direct contact of the individual soul with an omnipotent and 
omniscient God, but it was the fundamental creed of but one of the 
groups that sought to establish a new Eden. Perfectionists, individ- 
ually and in tiny groups, had throughout the days of revivalism 
often expressed their joy in their new freedom from a sense of sin^, 
Some of them had drifted into the radical sects; the rest had re- 


mained isolated extremists in the more orthodox churches of their 
own communities. There was no sect with perfectionism as its ma- 
jor tenet until the appearance of John Humphrey Noyes, in whom 
these scattered perfectionists found their leader. Under his direction 
and inspired by his zeal, they set forth, with numbers augmented 
by his teaching, to create for themselves a community in which the 
perfection they desired might be attained. 

There was nothing in the heritage or early life of John Hum- 
phrey Noyes to indicate that he might someday lead one of the 
most radical movements of an era of experimentation and make it 
succeed over a period of fifty years to such an extent as to con- 
found those who were horrified by his doctrines. This "greatest of 
the Vermont prophets" was born in 1811, the son of John and 
Polly (Hayes) Noyes and the descendant of generations of sturdy, 
well-to-do, eminently respectable New Englanders. There was no 
hardship or privation in John Humphrey's childhood. His father 
was successful in business and prominent in state politics; his mother 
was capable and devoted; they had eight or nine lively, normal 
children. No picture could present a sharper contrast to the youth 
of Joseph Smith or Mother Ann Lee, and yet the Vermont lad was 
to found a movement in which were combined some of the charac- 
teristics of Mormonism and Shakerism. 

Noyes graduated from Dartmouth in 1830 and came home to 
Putney, Vermont, to study law. 'A year later the great revivalist, 
Charles Finney, swept through New England on one of his preach- 
ing tours, and the young law student was one of his converts. The 
ministry then became Noyes's goal. A year at Andover was fol- 
lowed by two at Yale, and the young man was licensed to preach. 
Until that point there had been little that was unusual in his prog- 
ress, but with his first preaching he exposed beliefs that were at 
once to cut him off from serving any orthodox church or sect. 
Perfectionism may have been implicit in the promises of the reviv- 
alists, but proclaimed from the pulpit as a reality for the individual, 
it was a most unorthodox doctrine, and the young divinity student 
was examined by his teachers. When he calmly asserted that with 
conversion came a complete release from sin, his license to preach 
was revoked, in spite of his adding that freedom from sin did not 
mean one was incapable of improvement. "I do not pretend," he 


said, "to perfection in externals, I only claim purity of heart and 
the answer of a good conscience toward God." 21 

Had young Noyes not been expelled from the ministry, his zeal 
might have been diverted into the temperance and antislavery move- 
ments, in which his interest was strong. But refused ordination and 
all opportunity to pursue his chosen profession, he devoted himself 
to elaborating his perfectionism into a creed. Keen, logical, inter- 
ested in many types of reform, and utterly fearless, Noyes found 
himself moving gradually far to the left in his religious and social 
ideas. Neither his doctrine nor his social theories came to him quickly 
or in complete form. For twelve years he wandered about, preach- 
ing to those of perfectionist ideas, talking with other iconoclasts, 
studying what he called "the Sin system, the Marriage system, the 
Work system, and the Death system." Always he sought solutions 
for these problems, and when he had arrived at some conclusion as 
to cause and remedy, he had courage and independence enough to 
put his ideas into practice. 

Opposition and ostracism stimulated Noyes's thinking and served 
to precipitate his ideas. After studying the history of many radical 
sects and many reform movements, he became convinced that both 
orthodox religious doctrine and the existing social order were wrong 
and should be replaced by a new system, for "the next phase of na- 
tional history will be that of Revivalism and Socialism harmonized 
and working together for the Kingdom of Heaven." 22 

Noyes's sympathy for the laboring people was aroused by their 
hardships in the period of depression following 1837. He studied 
the teachings of Robert Owen and of Fourier and was keenly in- 
terested in the religious and economic bases of the Shakers and of 
Brook Farm. He became convinced that socialism without religion 
was impossible, but that combined with perfectionism it would be- 
come invincible. The family, he believed, must always be the cen- 
tral unit of society, but the ordinary family relationship was full of 
injustice and bred competition and dissension among men. The nec- 
essary reconciliation of family life and Christian socialism could 
only be achieved through a new type of "marriage system." This 
reasoning led young Noyes to investigate the social aspects of the 
sexual relationship. Here he was blazing a new path and one fraught 
with grave dangers. 


Like Mother Ann and the leaders of other sects, Noyes drew 
upon his own experience for material for his social theories. An un- 
happy love affair, after which the woman of his choice married 
another man, led him to write to a friend: 

When the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven there will be 
no marriage. Exclusiveness, jealousy, quarreling have no place at the 
marriage supper of the Lamb. ... I call a certain woman my wife. 
She is yours, she is Christ's, and in him she is the bride of all saints. 
She is now in the hands of a stranger, and according to my promise to 
her I rejoice. My claim upon her cuts directly across the marriage cov- 
enant of this world, and God knows the end. 28 

Noyes recovered from this misadventure in a few years and mar- 
ried Harriet Holton, but their happiness was marred by the fact 
that four of the five children that came in rapid succession were 
stillborn. Harriet's suffering, borne so uncomplainingly as a part of 
woman's lot, made Noyes question both the justice of man's domi- 
nation over woman and the nature of sexual intercourse. Out of 
these two experiences grew the doctrines of complex marriage and 
male continence that were to be the center of the social order estab- 
lished at Oneida. 

After Noyes's marriage he settled down in Putney, Vermont, his 
childhood home, and began to gather about him a few people who 
subscribed to his teachings. His first converts were his brother 
George, two sisters, and their husbands. A few others, mostly people 
with means, came to live with them, and in the early 1840'$ "com- 
munism of property" was decided ,upon. In 1845 an elaborate con- 
stitution was drawn up, and officers were selected. The little group 
kept its ideas before those interested in perfectionism by the publi- 
cation of periodicals first the Witness, then the Perfectionist, and 
in 1846 the Spiritual Magazine. Thus a new sect, the Perfectionists, 
was formed. 

The life of the little community was very simple; several of its 
members lived in the Noyes household, others in dwellings near by. 
They built a little store and a chapel and paid their way from a 
common purse in charge of a community treasurer. The women of 
the group did all the housework and cooking, but were freed from 
part of what they all regarded as "kitchen slavery" by the elimina- 
tion of formal meals. After an early and substantial breakfast the 


cooking for the rest of the day was done, all the dishes for the pre- 
ceding twenty-four hours were washed, food and dishes were con- 
veniently arranged on the pantry shelves, and the women walked 
out of the kitchen, free from household cares until the next morn- 

In work out of doors, also, prolonged and exhausting labor was 
discouraged. Noyes had studied diet fads and problems of medicine 
and health. Although not completely vegetarian, the colony ate 
little meat, avoided drugs, and lived very simply. For a time faith 
healing was attempted and seeming miracles appeared to justify 
faith in Noyes's gifts. A kind of lofty spiritualism was preached, for 
Noyes believed in direct revelation of God's will and did not close 
his mind to the possibility of spirit intercourse. 

The non-Perfectionist members of the Noyes clan and interested 
friends and neighbors might look with alarm upon the spectacle of 
John Noyes wasting his inheritance in such a fashion, but there was 
no great stir of disapproval until rumors began to circulate that the 
communism of the group had been extended to other things than 
property. Noyes had made no secret of his antagonism to the insti- 
tution of marriage and in his lecture trips through New England 
had openly advocated its abolition or modification. He had himself 
been legally married, however, as had those who came to live with 
him at Putney, and there was before 1846 no evidence that the 
group had disregarded the marriage ties. In that year, after much 
consultation with his followers, Noyes decided that the last steps 
should be taken to complete his new social order, and "complex 
marriage" was instituted with the union of Noyes and Mary Cragin, 
the wife of another member of the community. 

Briefly defined, complex marriage meant that each woman in the 
group was the wife of every man and that every man was the hus- 
band of each woman. No sexual intercourse was permitted, how- 
ever, without the complete willingness of both parties and without 
careful regulation. Male continence was practiced, and propagation 
was regarded as a matter for group discussion. The widest selection 
for sexual experiences was encouraged, but the Perfectionists re- 
sented the charge of "free love," for they held that all matters of 
sex were more carefully regulated among them than in the "world 
outside" and that their sex relationships were governed by "sane- 


tions rooted deep in the community religion." Those who fell vic- 
tims to "special love" were carefully separated, for permanent unions 
based upon the exclusive love of one man for one woman were re- 
garded as unsocial and as dangerous to communal interests. 

These doctrines were not worked out all at once, nor was there 
any immediate publication of the complex marriage theory, but the 
little town of Putney was horrified by the mere rumor that it had 
been put into practice. Fathers sent their daughters away to escape 
possible contagion, clergymen rose in their wrath and preached 
anti-Perfectionist sermons, and angry neighbors met to take steps 
to rid the town of such social rebels. Noyes was arrested, and, al- 
though he and his community laughed at die alarm of the orthodox, 
it was deemed wise to avoid mob action by leaving Putney for re- 
gions less conservative and less inhabited. 

Over in New York Perfectionism had been preached by Charles 
Dutton, a Yale associate of Noyes, and a few persons who had been 
attracted to the new faith had kept in touch with the Putney group. 
After visiting with them for some time, Noyes decided that the 
Oneida Creek region would suit his own purposes, and he arranged 
for the removal thither of his Vermont followers. 

The exodus from Vermont began in 1848, and soon the few 
buildings in the Oneida wilderness were overcrowded. Building 
must be done at once, and necessity as well as conviction led Noyes 
to decide upon a single large communal dwelling. Before their first 
winter in New York the Perfectionists constructed a four-story 
barnlike building sixty feet long by thirty-five in width. Into its 
building went every energy; women worked with the men even in 
excavating, and Noyes himself worked as mason. For practical rea- 
sons the Oneida women in that very summer adopted the simplified 
dress known as the Bloomer costume and went about in trousers 
and short-skirted tunics. They cut their hair, also, so as to contrib- 
ute the time saved to the common cause. After the emergency was 
over they refused to give up their comfort, and the reformed dress 
was a part of community practice from 1848 onward. 

There was always more work to be done. In 1848 the commu- 
nity numbered fifty-one, in 1849 eighty-seven, and in 1851 two 
hundred and five. Each year additions had to be made to the "Man- 
sion House"; 24 stables, shops, and other buildings had to be erected. 


In a local joke the community folks were reported to hang their 
partitions on hinges, and to set their buildings on castors so they 
could be moved about more easily. 

At first farming and logging were the main industries of the 
Oneida Community. The Perfectionists endeavored to produce what 
they consumed, but they had little success and were forced to 
use part of their original capital of one hundred thousand dollars. 
Noyes, whose restless energies were not satisfied in rural life, went 
off to Brooklyn, where he lost a great deal of money in a publishing 
venture. In 1854 he returned to Oneida to find his colony in serious 
straits and turned his keen mind to the task of restoring it to sol- 
vency. Expenses were cut to the bone, peddlers were sent out to 
earn a little money by the sale of notions, and Noyes searched for 
some industrial enterprise that might prove profitable. He found it 
when a man who had invented a new variety of steel traps joined 
the community, and all available workmen were used in the manu- 
facture of traps. The enterprise was almost immediately successful; 
soon Oneida traps were considered the best in the land and were 
sold as far away as the Hudson's Bay Company. The men of the 
community were all Americans nearly all Yankees and inven- 
tive. They utilized water power, invented new machines, practiced 
until they became skilled laborers, and reaped a huge profit from 
the manufacture of traps. 

Noyes became convinced that the success of the community de- 
pended upon industry rather than upon agriculture, and new lines 
of activity were developed. When peddlers brought back word of 
the need for sewing and embroidery silks, Noyes sent girls to a Con- 
necticut factory to learn the trade, bought machinery, and started 
the manufacture of sewing silk. When a group of community women 
canned more fruit than the household could eat, they sought a mar- 
ket for their surplus outside. Soon they were beset with orders and 
were forced to purchase fruits from all the neighboring farms to 
meet the demand. Somewhat later a member of die community be- 
gan to make silver spoons. When the market proved good, knives 
and forks were added, and the Perfectionists soon discovered that 
they had chanced upon their most profitable enterprise. The height 
of their success in business came after the Civil War and is not a 
part of this account. It is enough to say that Noyes proved at the 


Oneida Community that there was no inherent reason why a com- 
munistic settlement could not become a thriving industrial estab- 

The progress of the community toward economic success was 
accompanied by the development of business administration. In 
matters of doctrine and social structure the dictate of Noyes was 
usually sufficient, but for business affairs there was a remarkably 
modern and efficient organization and careful accounting. Social- 
ism and group enterprise were made effective through the activities 
of standing committees, twenty-one of them, overseeing finance, 
amusements, patents, printing, water power, and the like. The busi- 
ness of the community was divided into forty-eight departments, 
ranging from the silk factory to the day nursery and the prepara- 
tion of musical programs. The work assignments were in charge of 
an employment committee, whose policy it was to change the oc- 
cupation of each individual frequently in order to prevent monot- 
ony, class distinction, regimentation, and other evils of industrial 
work. Special training and special abilities or desires were recog- 
nized wherever it seemed best for both the individual and the com- 
munity. Competitive enterprise was discouraged, and excessive zeal 
or labor was frowned upon. Wherever the work was of a kind that 
women could do there was no sex discrimination, and complete 
equality prevailed. 

Community life was designed to be satisfying, well rounded, and 
not too difficult. The Oneida leaders were not ascetic or overly 
self-denying. They intended that the members of the community 
should all be happy, industrious, and contented. The working day 
was long, but the work itself was not very hard, and food and hous- 
ing, though simple, were adequate. Economic security and pleasant 
living conditions were accepted as basic necessities. As the commu- 
nity prospered, labor was hired for the sort of work that was re- 
garded as mere drudgery and it is notable that household service 
was one of the first to receive such assistance. Children remained 
with their mothers until they could walk and were then placed in a 
general nursery in the care of those who had both training and vo- 
cation for the work. They were well supplied with toys and with 
playtime and were, one author stated, permitted to sleep each morn- 
ing until they woke of their own accord. Many Oneida prac- 


tices in child training anticipated those of the so-called progressive 
schools of a later day. 25 For both children and adults there was a pro- 
gram of amusement and recreation that was varied and interesting: 
plays, concerts, games, sports, tableaux, lectures, readings reminis- 
cent of Brook Farm although not perhaps on quite such a lofty in- 
tellectual level. Whenever young people of ability desired advanced 
education, provision was made for sending them to schools or univer- 
sities in the "outside world," provided the good of the community 
was advanced thereby. Medicine, law, engineering, and teaching 
were recognized as special skills of great social value, and the com- 
munity usually had students "abroad" for such training. 

Harmony in community life was recognized as an absolute neces- 
sity. Every effort was made to remove the competitive spirit; "spe- 
cial love" was forbidden, the rearing of children was regarded as a 
communal responsibility, no one type of mind or one variety of 
labor was given favor over another, and in every case the individual 
was expected to subordinate his interests to those of the group. All 
these measures might, however, have failed to produce harmony if 
there had not existed throughout the history of the community an 
institution known as "mutual criticism," by which all discord and 
complaint were forced into the open and both the subject of criti- 
cism and his criticizers were put through a moral and emotional 
purge of great psychological value. 

In the early days the whole community attended the criticism, 
and there was a general discussion and dissection of the victim's 
motives and shortcomings. As numbers grew, such sessions were 
usually held before committees over which "Father" Noyes was 
accustomed to preside; only a cause cetibre was heard in full as- 
sembly. Allan Esdake, a member of the community, reported one 
young probationer's account of his first terrifying criticism: 

Here was I who had been doing my utmost to lead the right kind 
of life, had been a laborer in churches, in religious meetings, in Sunday 
and Ragged Schools; had always stood ready to empty my pockets to 
the needy I, who for months had been shaping my conduct and ideas 
into form ... to match the requirements of the Oneida Community, 
was shaken from center to circumference, Every trait of my character 
that I took any pride or comfort in seemed to be cruelly discounted; 
and after, as it were, being turned inside out and thoroughly inspected, 
I was, metaphorically, stood upon my head, and allowed to drain till 


all the self-righteousness had dripped out of me. . . . For days and 
weeks after I found myself recalling various passages of my criticism 
and reviewing them in a new light; the more I pondered, the more con- 
vinced I became of the justice of what at first my spirit had so violently 
rebelled against. In my subsequent experience with criticism, I have 
invariably found that, in points wherein I thought myself the most 
abused, I have, on mature reflection, found the deepest truth. Today 1 
-feel that I would gladly give many years of my life, if I could have just 
one more criticism from John H. Noyes. 26 

All this consideration of the economic and cultural life of the 
community must not be allowed to obscure the fact that it was 
deeply rooted in religion and in social theory. John Humphrey 
Noyes firmly believed that no community could be successful whose 
basis was not religious, and only a communal home could provide 
the means for putting into practice the sort of religious doctrine he 
had developed. Socialism and Perfectionism were inseparable if 
Noyes's ideas as to the bases of Perfectionism were accepted. What 
those views were on the interrelation of religion, communism, and 
sex, Noyes made clear in a long letter to the English traveler, Wil- 
liam Hepworth Dixon, in 1867: 

It is evident from what we have seen that Revivals breed social revo- 
lutions. All the social irregularities reported in the papers followed in 
the train of revivals; and, so far as I know, all revivals have developed 
tendencies to such irregularities. The philosophy of the matter seems 
to be this: Revivals are theocratic in their very nature; they introduce 
God into human affairs. ... In the conservative theory of Revivals, 
this power is restricted to the conversion of souls; but in actual experi- 
ence it goes, or tends to go, into all the affairs of life. . . . And the' 
theocratic tendency, if it goes beyond religion, naturally runs first into 
some form of Socialism. Religious love is very near neighbor to sexual 
love, and they always get mixed in the intimacies and social excitements 
of Revivals. The next thing a man wants, after he has found the salva- 
tion of his soul, is to find his Eve and his Paradise. ... A worldly wise 
man might say, they [these facts] show that Revivals are damnable 
delusions, leading to immorality and disorganization of society. I should 
say, they show that Revivals, because they are divine, require for their 
complement, a divine organization of society, which all who love Re- 
vivals and the good of mankind should fearlessly seek to discover and 
inaugurate. . . . The course of things may be restated thus: Revivals 
lead to religious love; religious love excites the passions; the converts, 
finding themselves in theocratic liberty, begin to look about for their 
mates and their paradise. Here begins divergence. If women have the 


lead, the feminine idea that ordinary wedded love is carnal and unholy 
rises and becomes a ruling principle. Mating on the Spiritual plane with 
all the heights and depths of sentimental love, becomes the order of the 
day. Then, if a prudent Mother Ann is at the head of affairs, the sexes 
are fenced off from each other and carry on their Platonic intercourse 
through the grating. ... On the other hand, if the leaders are men, 
the theocratic impulse takes the opposite direction, and polygamy in 
some form is the result. Thus Mormonism is the masculine form, as 
Shakerism is the feminine form, of the more morbid products of Re- 
vivals. Our Oneida Socialism, too, is a masculine product of the Great 
Revivals. ... I made ready for the realization of it by clearing the 
field in which I worked of all libertinism, and by educating our Putney 
family in male continence and criticism. When all was ready in 1846, 1 
launched the theory into practice. ... It is notable that all the social- 
isms that have sprung from revivals have prospered. They are utterly 
opposed to each other . . . [yet] however false and mutually repug- 
nant the religious socialisms may be in their details, they are all based 
on the theocratic principle they all recognize the right of religious 
inspiration to shape society and dictate the form of family life. In this 
Mormons, Shakers, and Bible-Communists agree. I believe this to be a 
true principle and one that is dear to the heavens . . . and I expect that 
this principle and not Republicanism, (the mere power of human Law), 
will at last triumph in some form here and throughout the world. 27 

Since, as one of the Oneida women expressed it, "It was never, 
in our minds an experiment, we believed we were living under a 
system which the whole world would sooner or later adopt," 28 the 
leaders at Oneida were constantly alert to get their views before 
the world and to counteract misrepresentation. Visitors were cor- 
dially received, the utmost frankness characterized Noyes's discus- 
sion of even the most controversial tenets of Perfectionism, and 
the printing and editorial departments of community business were 
highly developed. In 1847 Noyes published The Berean, a book 
composed in die main of articles written in the past decade. In the 
next year appeared the famous Bible Communism, which was, as its 
author said, "the frankest possible disclosure of the theory of entire 
communism." 29 In this work Noyes's theories of complex marriage 
and male continence were carefully worked out. The community 
also published a paper called the Circular, which contained not only 
news but editorials and articles on questions of doctrine and poli- 
cies. There was never any effort to disguise the social theories of 
the community, and when Noyes was haled before the courts in 


Vermont and New York, he was completely frank and outspoken 
on the question of his views on sex. 

The theories first expounded at Putney remained with very little 
change until 1879, when, owing to pressure from without, Noyes 
advised that the whole practice of complex marriage be given up. 80 
Almost at once the socialistic basis for community industries came 
into question, and in 1880 a majority of the group decided upon 
the incorporation of Oneida Community Ltd., as a joint-stock com- 
pany, the shares of which should be divided among the erstwhile 
communists. So ended, in prosperity and amity, one of the most 
successful and interesting of the social and economic experiments 
of the period. 


Utopian Socialism in America 

Often the ideas and aspirations out of which American Utopias de- 
veloped were of foreign origin, and many of them owed little or 
nothing to religious emotionalism or religious creeds. The rapid 
advance in mechanization that was altering every aspect of economic 
life was also causing profound dislocation in the social structure. 
Complicated and expensive machinery made the factory the indus- 
trial unit, and the factory system necessitated concentrations of 
population to satisfy the demands of the machines for labor. Old 
towns became larger and new towns were built, and men, women, 
and children were crowded into them without regard for comfort, 
sanitation, or adequate living standards. With no asset save the 
work his hands might do, the laborer was at first without defense 
against the excessive demands of the captain of industry, and indus- 
trial capitalism grew at the expense of the helpless poor. For many 
years there was a shocking lag between industrial progress and so- 
cial reorganization. In an appreciation of that lag lay the origin of 
much of nineteenth-century humanitarianism and Utopian socialism, 
in both Europe and America. 


Robert Owen was one of the first to recognize the problem and 
to seek some solution for it. He belonged to the laboring class him- 
self, for he was born in North Wales in 1771 into a poor but 
self -respecting and independent family. His father was a saddler 
and ironmonger, and the boy, the sixth of seven children, was given 
only an elementary education, but he read everything that came his 
way. Leaving for London to seek his fortune at the mature age of 
ten, he found employment in a drapery shop owned by a Scotsman 
named McGuffog, who grew fond of the boy and permitted him 
to read whatever he chose from his own library. Religion seems to 
have been the lad's chief preoccupation, perhaps because most of 
the books in the library were on religious subjects or because Mc- 
Guffog belonged to the Church of Scotland and his wife to the 
Church of England and they took the boy with them first to one 



church and then to the other. Whatever the reason for his early inter- 
est, before he was fourteen he had abandoned all religious belief. 
"But my religious feelings," he wrote, "were immediately replaced 
by the spirit of universal charity - not for a sect or a party, or for a 
country or a colour but for the human race, and with a real and 
ardent desire to do them good." i 

That desire was never forgotten as the young man climbed to 
the top of British industrial society. In a day when other captains 
of industry were forgetting or ignoring all the tragedies of the in- 
dustrial revolution, Robert Owen kept constantly before him the 
problem he considered the greatest of the age, the problem that 

connects itself with the unexampled increase of productive power, 
which human beings in civilized lite have acquired in little more than a 
single century, and with the momentous question whether this vast gift 
of labor-saving inventions is to result in mitigation of the toil and melio- 
ration of, the condition of the millions who have acquired it. 2 

At New Lanark in Scotland Owen built what was, for his day, a 
model factory town, and there he tackled the problems of child 
labor, sanitation, education, and other aspects of the machine age 
that have since become the concern of social and governmental 
agencies. He early recognized the necessity for legislation for the 
benefit of the working classes and was an ardent supporter of acts 
limiting child labor and providing for factory inspection. After the 
close of the Napoleonic conflict in 1815, he espoused the cause of 
the unemployed and did everything in his power to persuade his 
contemporaries that provision must be made for society's unfortu- 

By 1820 Owen was determined to found some sort of settlement 
in which his fundamental social principles could be worked out. 
Why did he choose the United States as the field for his first experi- 
ment? Chance probably played a part. George Rapp was willing to 
sell his establishment in Indiana, and Richard Flower on a visit to 
England got in touch with Owen in Rapp's behalf. But there were 
other reasons. Owen's imagination had been touched by the glamor 
of the unknown. America, with its lack of class rigidity, its ac- 
knowledgment of the worth of the common man, and its willingness 
to accept the novel and the untried, lured him on. On the frontier, 
where vested interests would be weak and distractions and obstruc- 


tions would be of little moment, a new social order might have a 
chance to grow, and a Utopia might be created to serve as a model 
for all mankind. 8 

Before leaving for America Owen himself, in a pamphlet called 
Discourses on a New System of Society, announced his plan to es- 
tablish at New Harmony, Indiana, an experiment in socialism. In 
appealing to Americans of liberal ideas he said, "By a hard struggle 
you have attained political liberty, but you have yet to acquire real 
mental liberty, and, if you cannot possess yourselves of it, your po- 
litical liberty will be precarious and of much less value." * 

The publication of the Discourses immediately attracted atten- 
tion in America, and the arrival of the great philanthropist was 
eagerly awaited. Late in 1824 Owen and his son William crossed 
the ocean and went at once to Indiana to inspect the New Harmony 
site and close the deal with the Rappites. William Owen was left to 
prepare for the coming of the "industrious and well-disposed," 
while his father traveled eastward to announce the initiation of the 

On February 25 and March 7, 1825, Robert Owen spoke in the 
hall of the House of Representatives in Washington to huge audi- 
ences of governmental officials, including President Monroe. These 
speeches, giving both a statement of his plans and a manifesto of his 
principles, ended with an invitation to all in sympathy with his ideas 
to join in the work. Margaret Bayard Smith, who never missed a 
celebrity or failed to make shrewd comment on an event, recorded 
in her notebook her understanding of Owen's intentions: 

Mr. Owen cares not how degraded, vicious or ignorant his new 
colonists may be, as he feels the power of his system to be such, that 
they can soon be rendered virtuous and educated. At Lanark, he said, 
he had commenced with the dregs of society. In a population of 2400 
criminals and ignorant persons, he had never made any punishments or 
rewards, beyond a small fine, to restrain vice and encourage happiness 
which resulted from good conduct and to encourage virtue. . . . 
"They want nothing [he said] and therefore are without temptation 
make a man happy and you make him virtuous this is the whole of 
my system, to make him happy, I enlighten his mind and occupy his 
hands, and I have so managed the art of instruction that individuals 
seek it as an amusement. Two of the most powerful moral agents I use 
are musick and dancing. Relaxation after labour, and amusement are 
both physically and morally necessary. Dancing combines both exfer- 

From a contemporary drawing 

Robert Owen 



cise and amusement, and of all pleasures musick is the most innocent and 
exhilarates the spirits while it soothes the passions. I require my people 
to labour only eight hours out of the twenty-four. Instruction and 
amusement diversify the intermediate hours." 5 

The response to Owen's invitation was immediate and beyond 
both expectation and preparation. In the spring and summer of 1825 
nine hundred eager colonists arrived on the banks of the Wabash. 
Although there were few of the "degraded, vicious or ignorant" 
among them, they were, as Robert Dale Owen wrote, "a hetero- 
geneous collection of radicals, enthusiastic devotees to principle, 
honest latitudinarians, and lazy theorists, with a sprinkling of un- 
principled sharpers thrown in." 6 More than "musick and dancing" 
would be necessary to weld together the denizens of New Har- 

Owen himself admitted that the transition from an individualistic 
to a socialistic system would require time and education to change 
the selfish habits of the old order and to prepare for the community 
of interests of the new. In an address to the first arrivals at New 
Harmony in April 1825, he called the village a halfway house, 

... the best half-way house I could procure for those who are going 
to travel this extraordinary journey with me; and although it is not 
intended to be our permanent residence, I hope it will be found not a 
bad traveller's tavern, in which we shall remain only until we can 
change our old garments, and fully prepare ourselves for the new state 
of existence into which we hope to enter. 7 

For this probationary period he proposed a temporary constitu- 
tion recognizing him as sole proprietor of the enterprise, working 
through a committee that would eventually 1 be entirely elective. 
Each family was to provide itself with its own furniture and equip- 
ment; each able-bodied person was to work, under the guidance of 
the administrative committee, at some trade or occupation, and for 
this labor credit would be entered at the public store, from which 
food and other goods might be drawn. Any member of the associa- 
tion might, during the first year, withdraw upon a week's notice, 
with the promise of payment in cash for all unexpended credits. In 
other words, New Harmony started out as a cooperative but not a 
communistic society. The plant was owned by Owen, and he took 
all the risk; the others had at stake only what it had cost to trans- 


port them to Indiana and the value of such labor as they might per- 
form. At the same time Owen and his agents were in control; all 
community projects and activities were subject to their dictation, 
and the whole scheme might be dropped if they so desired. 

During the months that Owen remained in America he attracted 
a goodly number of radical-minded intelligentsia to his project, but 
they were mostly men of European birth and training. Eminent in 
this group was William Maclure, sometimes called "the Father of 
American Geology," a man intensely interested in the new Pesta- 
lozzian education. Thomas Say, a zoologist, Charles Alexander 
Lesueur, naturalist and painter, Constantine Raffinesque, an ichthy- 
ologist, and Dr. Gerard Troost, a Dutch scientist, all came to New 
Harmony to work for the creation of a new order. Joseph Neef , 
Madame Fretageot, and Phiquepol d'Arusmont, Pestalozzians all, 
came to aid in the education of a young generation that would be 
free from all the restrictions and inhibitions of contemporary so- 
ciety and receptive of new ideas. Frances Wright, English reformer 
and writer, was an enthusiastic visitor. Robert Owen's four sons, all 
educated in Swiss schools, devoted their energies to various phases 
of the project, and all contemporary accounts mention the presence 
of "cultured ladies" and "reformers" whose ideas would today earn 
them the name of crackpot. 

One thing bound these leaders together; they were all freethink- 
ers who had, for one reason or another, discarded religious creeds. 
Alexander Campbell called New Harmony a "focus of enlightened 
atheism"; certainly it was the home of scientific materialists intent 
upon creating a Utopia according to their theories of society. The 
rank and file of community residents were neither atheists nor fa- 
natic theorists; their motives for following Robert Owen to Indiana 
were a mixture in which desire for land, economic security, and 
interesting society were predominant. Although the group had so 
few characteristics in common that generalizations are difficult, it is 
clear that they were, one and all, individualistic and unfitted by 
temperament or any previous experience for community discipline. 

In the first year the great lack was skilled workmen. The exec- 
utive committee hoped to operate all the Rappite industries and to 
make some progress with Owen's elaborate plans for community 
buildings. These were to form a hollow square one thousand feet 


long, and were to house an academy and a university as well as all 
departments of community life. Actually it was possible to accom- 
plish relatively little. The saw and grist mills were operated with 
profit; the hat- and boot-making shops were successful; soap, can- 
dles, and glue were made in excess of the needs of the community. 
But the dyeworks, the pottery, and the cotton and woolen mills 
were idle. The village was so overcrowded that housing conditions 
were bad, and there was little room for social and recreational ac- 
tivities. William Owen anxiously wrote his father that there was no 
room for more, and that all applicants must be refused admission 
except those who were masons, carpenters, bricklayers, cooks, or 
laundresses. Equipment was as deficient as were laborers; shingles, 
bricks, lime, boards, and all sorts of supplies must be produced by 
the community before they could be used in building. 

But in spite of all these initial difficulties, life at New Harmony 
was not without its compensations. There was great energy, cease- 
less activity, and much good fellowship. The schools were quickly 
established and were run on Pestalozzian principles, which must 
have necessitated novel and amusing adjustments when applied on 
the Western frontier. A newspaper, the New Harmony Gazette, 
was printed with William and Robert Dale Owen as editors, a Phil- 
anthropic Lodge of Masons was installed, and a Female Social So- 
ciety was organized. There were social gatherings almost nightly at 
which the "musick and dancing" upon which Owen depended were 
encouraged. Lectures on the social system and on cooperative prin- 
ciples were frequent. There were no community religious services, 
and no religious instruction in the schools, but permission was given 
to ministers of any faith to preach in the old Rappite church if they 
so desired. On Sunday mornings, however, the church was reserved 
for lectures on the social order. 

Robert Owen spent a part of 1825 in England, but he returned 
to the Indiana village in January 1826 and at once threw himself 
into the work of organizing and directing the enterprise. Whatever 
success it had seems to have been due to his administrative ability. 
Because New Harmony residents believed that his business ex- 
perience would bring order out of chaos and ensure success, they 
worked with greater energy under his direction. Encouraged by 
their efforts and eager to put his principles to the test of experience, 


Owen declared the probationary period at an end, although it had 
lasted only nine months instead of the two or more years of his 
original plan. A constitution for a Community of Equality was 
drawn up. 8 Provision was made for complete communism, lawmak- 
ing power was vested in an assembly composed of all adult resi- 
dents, and executive power was given to a council composed of 
the community officers and the superintendents of the departments 
of community enterprise. These departments were six: agriculture, 
manufacture, literature, science, education, domestic economy, gen- 
eral economy, and commerce. 

For a time Owen's ability as a manager seemed to make the plan 
work, but dissension soon appeared, and one constitutional amend- 
ment followed another in rapid succession. The community seemed 
to fluctuate between a desire for the town-meeting type of demo- 
cratic control and an acceptance of the imported theory of guild, or 
occupational, socialism. Then on July 4, 1826, Owen made public 
his Declaration of Mental Independence, in which he condemned 
the institution of private property, the control of organized religion, 
and the bondage of the marriage ties. These ideas were acceptable 
to very few Americans, and they greatly weakened the popular 
appeal of the New Harmony movement. 

When the new constitution had been put into effect, Owen made 
another long visit to England, leaving New Harmony in the hands 
of his sons and his scientific friends. That their difficulties were 
many was evidenced by the pleas of the Gazette for concord and 
unanimity among the residents of the village seemingly misnamed 
Harmony. Some of the specific admonitions are revealing indeed. 
Community members were urged, among other things, to abstain 
from abuse, "growling," and loud talking; to give up "grumbling, 
carping, and murmuring" against those who shirked work; to be 
tolerant toward the intemperate and those who had the "disease of 
laziness"; to keep children under control, and out of the dining room 
at mealtime; to feel no anger against "female members upon their 
aversion to the work of cooperation, or when they brawl, quarrel, 
or indulge in loud talk." 

Dissension, due either to conflicting theories or to dissatisfaction 
with the lack of religious organization, had led to the founding of 
several off shoots of New Harmony -Yellow Springs, Macluria, 


Feiba Peveli, and half a dozen others, all near the village of New 
Harmony.* These communities were also in a precarious state. 

When Owen returned in 1827 and surveyed the results of two 
years of education in cooperative living, he was ready to admit his 
failure. Perhaps Owen the businessman, faced with an insolvent 
concern, was ready to write the undertaking off and acknowledge 
his losses; perhaps Owen the paternalistic reformer, recognizing 
that here he had material quite different from his docile Scottish 
laborers, could see no solution to the problem and wished to drop 
the whole embarrassing puzzle. In any case, he proposed that the 
whole project be returned to him for settlement and dissolution. 

The New Harmony settlers were to be given lands on long lease 
or through sale at low prices, and each settler or group was to have 
every accommodation Owen could grant. As for himself, he wished 
to withdraw at once and permanently, writing off as lost about four 
fifths of his personal fortune. Many of the New Harmony residents 
took advantage of his terms and remained in the neighborhood as 
small farmers or artisans long after their efforts at utopianism were 
forgotten. The subsidiary communities broke up on similar terms, 
and their villages were deserted. Robert Owen returned to his ca- 
reer as reformer and philanthropist in Great Britain, handing over 
to his sons, who remained to become valuable American citizens, all 
that remained of his holdings on the Wabash. 

Many reasons have been given for the fate of this, the first crea- 
tion in the New World of Utopian socialism on a European model. 
Its failure was inevitable, says the eminent British guild socialist, 
G. D. H. Cole, because the whole project was the work of a small 
group of idealists each trying to put his own ideals into practice. 9 
And Robert Owen himself said with sorrow: 

I tried here a new course for which I was induced to hope that fifty 
years of political liberty had prepared the American population . . . 
but experience proved that the attempt was premature to unite a num- 
ber of strangers not previously educated for that purpose, who should 
carry on extensive operations for their common interest, and live to- 
gether as a % common family. 10 

The merits and defects of the colony during its brief existence 

* There were a number of Owenite groups elsewhere, not financially connected 
with New Harmony: twelve in Indiana, three in New York, two in Ohio, and one 
each in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. They all disappeared before 1830. 


were subjects for comment by various European and American 
travelers. One of the shrewdest of them was Bernhard, Duke of 
Saxe- Weimar Eisenach, whose Travels Through North America 
during the Years 182$ and 2826 contained a long description of life 
at New Harmony. The duke believed the project appeared to suc- 
ceed only when Owen was present and dictated policy, that it re- 
lapsed into anarchy when he was absent. He thought that Owen, 
for all his practical abilities, was a theorist who looked "for nothing 
less than to remodel the world entirely; to root out all crime; to 
abolish all punishment; to create similar views and similar wants, 
and in this manner to avoid all dissension and war-fare." In place of 
this concord the duke found an obstinate adherence to self-interest 
and social distinctions that prevented happy relationships, for the 
"young ladies and gentlemen of quality will not mix with the com- 
mon sort, and I believe that all well brought up members are dis- 
gusted and will soon abandon the society." 1X 

In a pamphlet entitled Twelve Months in New Harmony, Paul 
Brown expressed the discontent of the commoner at New Har- 
mony. He accused Owen of lack of generosity, of insincerity, and 
of lack of integrity and magnanimity. There was, he felt, too much 
music and dancing, too much education, too much red tape, and 
too little food. "The place was full of clamor, disaffections, and 
calumny." While the "aristocrats" quarreled with the commoners 
the cabbage fields went to ruin. The plebeian Brown confirmed the 
German aristocrat's opinion of irreconcilable social differences, stat- 
ing that "the people of the town continued strangers to each other, 
in spite of all their meetings, their balls, their frequent occasions of 
congregating in the hall, and all their pretense of cooperation." 

Unjust as Brown's pamphlet undoubtedly was, it was evidence 
of the discontent at New Harmony. "Owenism" was sweeping and 
iconoclastic in theory but without any consistent and considered 
plan. The failure to regulate either the number or the type of mem- 
bers and the lack of economic self-sufficiency doomed the colony 
from the beginning. 12 William and Robert Dale Owen, who lived 
more closely in touch with the people of New Harmony than did 
their father and who came to know American conditions far better 
than he could know them, gave their estimate of the experiment in 
a valedictory editorial in the Gazette: 


Our opinion is that Robert Owen ascribed too little influence to the 
early anti-social circumstances that had surrounded many of the quickly 
collected inhabitants of New Harmony before their arrival there, and 
too much to those circumstances which his experience might enable 
them to create around themselves in the future. 

And some years later Robert Dale Owen shrewdly remarked that 
the United States was a poor place, after all, for a communistic 
experiment, because wages were too high and land was too cheap 
to foster any feeling of the necessity for cooperative action. Cer- 
tainly Robert Owen, the European theorist, despite his expenditure 
of energy and funds and his enthusiasm and sincerity, could not 
find a common ground upon which a thousand ill-assorted Ameri- 
cans could work for a new social order. 


The name of Frances Wright will always be associated with that 
of Robert Owen, and her activities in the United States were an 
expression of the same humanitarian and socialistic thinking that 
motivated him. Frances Wright was the daughter of a Scottish 
tradesman who had won the suspicion of his fellow townsmen by 
subsidizing a cheap edition of Thomas Paine's Rights of Man. Born 
shordy before 1800, she came into a world full of revolutionary 
ideas, and her life was one of devotion to the many causes that ap- 
pealed to her ready sympathy. Even in her orphaned childhood she 
espoused the cause of the poor and upbraided her wealthy relatives 
for injustice in the distribution of riches. Her interest in the United 
States was aroused at an early age when she heard a Tory aunt speak 
of the wickedness of the colonials who had rebelled against their 
king. Upon attaining her majority and some control over her slen- 
der fortune, she set sail for the United States with her younger 
sister, writing to a disapproving uncle that she chose America for 
her travels rather than Italy because "a new country inhabited by 
free men was . . . more worthy to attract curiosity than countries 
in ruins inhabited by slaves." 18 

With the keenest interest the young women traveled extensively 
through the Northern states. In New York they made acquaintances 
in literary and dramatic circles, for Frances hoped to be a poet and 
a playwright; indeed her play Altorf was produced in New York 
City but it had little success. Upon returning to England in 1820 


she set herself to write the usual travel book, and in Views of 
Society and Manners in America in a Series of Letters from that 
Country during the Years 1818, 181$, and 1820 by an English- 
woman she described American democratic institutions in terms so 
glowing as to win the disapproval of all British aristocrats and the 
plaudits of European liberals. 

Thereafter Frances traveled widely and met numerous celebri- 
tiesthe most important being General Lafayette, of whom she 
became a great admirer and the almost constant companion, much 
to the embarrassment of the gentleman's family. When Lafayette 
sailed for America in 1824 for his triumphal journey through the 
country that claimed him as citizen and savior, the Wright sisters 
followed him, expecting to travel as near the entourage of their 
"adopted father" as the proprieties would allow. The ardent Frances 
had at that time no other idea than those of keeping near her idol 
and of renewing her acquaintance with the land she had learned to 
love some years before. But events in America changed her plans 
and involved her for many years in New World reforms. 

Frances Wright undoubtedly met and talked with Robert Owen 
in Washington and found herself much intrigued by his schemes 
for a Western Utopia. Owen, however, was completely cold to a 
cause that Frances had embraced. Some years before, through con- 
versations with Jefferson, she had become interested in the problem 
of Negro slavery and had often thought of the necessity for giving 
the slave education enough to protect him when he should acquire 
his freedom. Could not Owen's idea of a cooperative settlement in 
the West be successfully combined with an experiment in the educa- 
tion of the Negro? 

Frances Wright had long been interested also in the English 
colony in Illinois founded by George Flower and Morris Birkbeck 
for the benefit of English immigrants driven across the sea by the 
depression at the close of the Napoleonic Wars. The resistance of 
the English Prairie to the attempt to legalize slavery in Illinois in- 
creased Miss Wright's interest, and in the early spring of 1825 she 
set out for Illinois to discuss her ideas with George Flower, who 
had rented lands to free Negroes and had already purchased twenty- 
five slaves, freed them, and sent them to Haiti. En route the Wright 
sisters stopped at New Harmony, where the Rappites were packing 


their goods and William Owen was preparing for the eager hun- 
dreds that were soon to arrive. 

In George Flower Frances found a friend and ally with whom to 
work out her nebulous plans for the Negro race; he seemed to find 
nothing chimerical in her scheme for introducing Owenite theories 
on a slave plantation in the South. Together they created, on pa- 
per, a model community with farms, schools, and workshops where 
grateful slaves would work eagerly in a common effort to win their 
freedom and to acquire skills that would earn them a livelihood 
when they were free. 

Giving up all thought of returning to Europe, Miss Wright went 
on to New Orleans, searching along the way for a site for the pro- 
jected experiment. Land near Memphis, Tennessee, won her favor, 
and she went back to New England to enlist the support of North- 
ern abolitionists. In the summer of 1825 she published a pamphlet, 
A Plan -for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the United States 
without Danger of Loss to the Citizens of the South, which was a 
direct bid for government participation. Her proposal was for a do- 
nation of public lands in various sections of the South where experi- 
mental farms might be established similar to the one she was about 
to open in Tennessee. Initial expenses, she felt, might be met by 
the subscriptions of philanthropists, and she optimistically predicted 
that, although each of these farms would require an investment of 
$41,000, the first year's profits, after deducting interest, would be 
about $ 10,000! Upon each farm fifty to one hundred Negroes would 
labor for freedom. Five to ten years was considered the time it 
would take an able-bodied slave to repay the price paid for him and 
to acquire the industrial education necessary for him in a free life. 
Eventual colonization outside the United States was planned for all 
Negroes thus trained and emancipated. 

Fantastic as this scheme seems today, Frances Wright worked 
wholeheartedly to put it into effect. She bought the Tennessee 
plantation, already called Nashoba, and on it, with the aid of George 
Flower, she soon established nine adult slaves and a few children. A 
record of the short-lived colony was kept in the "Journal of the 
Plantation," which still exists to bear pathetic witness to the diffi- 
culties that beset the courageous Scotswoman. The slaves once in- 
stalled and an overseer, Richesson Whitbey, secured to manage the 


estate, Frances spent much of her time in the more congenial so- 
ciety of New Harmony, where she became a leader in the discus- 
sion of all sorts of radical theories. In 1826 she drew up a deed of 
trust that stated her dual objective for Nashoba: a model training 
plantation where blacks might buy their freedom and a white co- 
operative community on the Owenite plan. Ten trustees were des- 
ignated, and among them Frances, with characteristic optimism, 
named several famous men who did not learn of their selection until 
Nashoba became notorious. 

With the decline of New Harmony, Miss Wright's ideas of the 
future of Nashoba grew more grandiose. Her dreams transmuted 
the little group of log huts in the wilderness into a beautiful com- 
munity where kindred souls might commune while every bodily 
need was cared for by devoted Negroes whom she had started on 
their road to freedom. In the spring of 1827, however, when she 
revisited Nashoba with Robert Dale Owen, she found that her 
dream and the reality were far apart. As Owen wrote many years 

. . . even sanguine I had to admit that the outlook was unpromising. 
The land was all second rate only, and scarce a hundred acres of it clearea. 
Three or four squared log houses and a few small cabins for the slaves 
the only buildings. Slaves released from the fear of the lash worked in- 
dolently under the management of Whitby, whose education in an easy- 
going Shaker village had not at all fitted him for the post of plantation 
overseer. . . . Discouraging enough, certainly! 14 

Leaving poor fever-ridden Camilla Wright, an eccentric named 
Richardson, and the hapless Whitbey in charge, Frances and Rob- 
ert Dale Owen went abroad in search of "congenial associates" and 
new inspiration. When Miss Wright returned in the late winter, 
Frances Trollope traveled with her and stopped for a few days at 
Nashoba. Her keen eyes were not blinded by her friend's rosy 
dreams, and her comment was a clear prediction of the crash that 
was soon to come: 

The forest [as they approached Nashoba] became thicker and more 
dreary looking every mile we advanced; but our ever grinning negro 
declared it was a right good road, and that we should be sure to get to 
Nashoba, and so we did ... and one glance sufficed to convince me, 
that every idea I had formed of the place was as far as possible from the 
truth. Desolation was the only feeling -the only word that presented 


itself; but it was not spoken. I think, however, that Miss Wright was 
aware of the effect her forest-home produced on me; and I doubt not 
that the conviction reached us both at the same moment, that we had 
erred in thinking that a few months passed together at this spot could be 
productive of pleasure to either, but to do her justice, I believe her mind 
was so exclusively occupied by the object she had then in view, that all 
things else were worthless or indifferent to her, I never heard or read of 
any enthusiasm approaching hers, except in a few instances, in ages past, 
of religious fanaticism. 18 

This quality of enthusiasm or fanaticism Mrs. Trollope might 
have discovered some weeks before if she had been permitted to 
read a dissertation that Miss Wright wrote on shipboard. It was en- 
tided, "Explanatory Notes Respecting the Nature and Object of 
the Institution at Nashoba and the Principles upon Which It Is 
Founded: Addressed to the Friends of Human Improvement in All 
Countries and of All Nations." The appearance of this tract in the 
Memphis Advocate was the death knell of Nashoba and of Frances 
Wright's influence in much of America, for in it she stated her 
iconoclastic views on social problems. She commended Owen's co- 
operative principles, except that in her village manual labor was to 
be done by slaves. She tacitly approved miscegenation and openly 
advocated the abolition of the institution of marriage, adding a bit 
of dynamite with the remark, 

Let us not teach, that virtue consists in the crucifying of the affections 
and appetites, but in their judicious government! Let us not attach ideas 
of purity to monastic chastity, impossible to man or woman without con- 
sequences fraught with evil, nor ideas of vice to connexions formed un- 
der auspices of kind feeling. 

The furor of criticism that met this announcement did not greatly 
disturb Miss Wright, but the monotony and desolation of Nashoba 
finally conquered her. In April 1828 she left the plantation and 
went to New Harmony, where she lived a far more congenial life 
of giving lectures and assisting in editing the New Harmony Ga- 
zette. She found a new interest in the denunciation of the Christian 
religion and conducted a campaign in opposition to revivals. The 
clergy named her the Priestess of Beelzebub, for they feared the 
keen analytical mind and the dramatic oratory of this opponent 
whose audiences were always large if not always approving. 

Later in the year the indefatigable Fanny appointed Whitbey, 


now the husband of her sister Camilla, as attorney to settle the af- 
fairs of bankrupt Nashoba and departed for a broader field in New 
York. Arrangements were finally made to free all the Nashoba 
Negroes and take them to Haiti, where they were established in 
homes of their own. 

Miss Wright's reputation as a radical speaker had preceded her to 
New York, and the Masonic Hall -hired with her private funds - 
was filled to capacity with those who were determined to hear her 
lectures, interrupted though they were by heckling, by smoke- 
producing devices, and by sudden darkness when her adversaries 
turned off the gas. Her enemies found fresh ammunition against her 
when Lewis and Arthur Tappan, strict Presbyterians and owners 
of the Journal of Coimnerce, began to publish excerpts from her 
"Explanatory Notes." Assailed as a "woman impervious to the voice 
of virtue and case-hardened against shame" and as "a female mon- 
ster whom all decent people ought to avoid," Fanny felt the need 
of a press of her own and decided to print in New York a second 
issue of the Free Enquirer, the new name of the New Harmony Ga- 
zette, of which she was still an editor. This new enterprise brought 
her into contact with New York labor leaders, who awakened her 
interest in what was to be her last great cause in America the cause 
of the workingman. 


The years since the beginning of the nineteenth century had 
witnessed a rapid mechanization of industry in the seaboard states, 
and factory towns had sprung up like mushrooms wherever water 
power ensured success for enterprise. The old period of domestic 
handicraft seemed nearing its end in America as in Europe. At first 
few persons recognized the trend of the time or the social conse- 
quences of industrialization. Men had always worked long hours, 
and women and children in the village and on the farm had borne 
their full share of work from dawn to dusk. To some the factory 
offered opportunity for labor pleasanter and more remunerative 
than any they had yet known. Many craftsmen, however, feared 
the machine as an impersonal and implacable rival but saw no way 
of blocking its progress. Some communities eagerly sought the prof- 
its and benefits of the new order; others resented the changes made 
by steam and water power. 


On the surface at least the United States seemed able to escape 
the direst consequences of rapid industrialization, for scarcity of 
labor and high living standards prevented the abject poverty and 
misery of the early factory towns in England. Nearly every British 
traveler in the 1830'$ was taken to Lowell and Waltham, Massachu- 
setts, to view what were considered model factory towns. Almost 
without exception their accounts paid tribute to the cleanliness, the 
healthfulness, and the generally high standards of town, textile fac- 
tory, and workers. In his American Notes Dickens called atten- 
tion to the independence and self-respect of the well-dressed, well- 
mannered working girls of Lowell. He mentioned good working 
conditions, good boardinghouses provided with "joint stock" pianos, 
the fewness of children in the factory, the factory library, and the 
newspaper entirely managed by the girls, whose own articles, poems, 
and stories appeared in its pages. 16 Harriet Martineau "rejoiced" as 
she watched a procession of well-dressed mechanics, and although 
she thought American working people labored harder than those of 
their class in England, she believed they were better paid, better 
fed, and healthier. 17 

Michel Chevalier also visited Lowell and observed the conditions 
carefully. He stated that most of the five thousand girls operating 
the mills were daughters of New England farmers who expected to 
work in the factory four or five years in order to save two or three 
hundred dollars for themselves or their parents. A seventy-hour 
week was not too strenuous for these healthy farm girls, and their 
five years' residence did not menace their future welfare. They 
were housed in company boardinghouses, and from one third to 
one half of their three-dollar weekly wage was deducted in pay- 
ment for food and lodging. Church attendance was required, neither 
card games nor "ardent spirits" were permitted, and any "dissolute" 
worker was assured dismissal. Chevalier believed that scarcity of la- 
bor, as well as Puritan standards, led the factory owners to safe- 
guard the welfare of their employees. 18 

None of the travelers seem to have asked the girls what they 
thought of the life they must lead in the factory towns. The girls 
came in willingly at first, but by 1846 conditions had changed. We 
read that "a long, low, black wagon, termed a 'slaver/ makes trips 
to the north of die state [Massachusetts] cruising around Vermont 


and New Hampshire, with a commander who is paid one dollar a 
head for all [the girls] he brings to market and more in proportion 
to the distance if they bring them from a distance they cannot 
easily get back." 10 

Nearly every traveler mentions in this connection that cheap 
land in the West was one reason for labor scarcity and high wage 
scales.* And, indeed, as New England girls left the hill farms to 
work in the village mill, or went even farther afield to find work in 
the new factory towns, many of New England's young men were 
turning from the stone-choked fields of their home states to the more 
productive lands of the Ohio country. Both movements were a part 
of the transformation of the Northeast from an agrarian to an indus- 
trial economy. When a small textile factory was built somewhere 
on almost every little stream on which water power could be devel- 
oped, the transition from domestic to factory production was made 
without much difficulty. The growth of factory towns on'the larger 
streams came more slowly, and it was not until after 1830 that 
American labor faced all the problems of the new industrial order. 
Even then the wide expanse of free land and the workingman's pos- 
session of the franchise were factors that distinguished the problems 
of the American laborer from those of the European worker. 

Labor solidarity, or self -consciousness, was slow in coming under 
such conditions. Before 1825 there were only a few local "associa- 
tions" and those in but a few trades. These societies were often of a 
benevolent or mutual insurance nature and bore little resemblance 
to modern labor organizations. The cordwainers (shoemakers) of 
Philadelphia and New York seem to have been the first working- 
men's group to organize to raise wages, and in the first great legal 
decision on a labor issue the Philadelphia shoemakers in 1815 were 
penalized for conspiracy. Labor organization in itself was never de- 
clared illegal in American courts, and no laws against such combi- 
nations were passed, but for a twenty-year period union activities 
were blocked by a conservative judiciary acting on proof of con- 

* This is the so-called safety-valve theory that was made much of throughout 
the nineteenth century. Whether or not mechanics actually went West was never 
ascertained. Modern scholarship has attacked the theory, but the substance of the 
articles on the subject leaves the basic facts of the effect of the West unchallenged. 
If mechanics cannot be shown to have gone West, cheap land did drain off immi- 
grants and the farm boys of the East, and labor scarcity remained a factor in Ameri- 
can life. 80 


spiracy. It was not until 1840 in the case of Commonwealth v. Hunt 
that a chief justice of the Massachusetts supreme court, in a stirring 
decision, held the action of workingmen in combining to raise 
wages to be legal. 21 

And so the first steps were taken on the long road toward the par- 
ticipation of labor in determining the conditions under which it 
must work. The depression of 1819 acted as a temporary deterrent, 
but with the return of prosperity in the early twenties progress was 
rapid. From 1825 to 1837 hundreds of local trade societies were 
formed, city federations of these societies were organized, and, as the 
boom of the early thirties brought rising commodity prices, na- 
tional associations arose in various crafts which in 1834 combined 
in a National Trades' Union. In this period a New York newspaper 
asserted that two thirds of the workers of that city were organized. 
Alarmed employers combined in associations of their own to com- 
bat this hothouse growth of labor organizations, and there were re- 
peated conflicts showing many of the aspects of modern industrial 
strife strikes, picketing, ostracism of scabs, black-listing, boycotts, 
and so on. 

Realization of his own needs and of the position of his class in 
the young republic led the American workingman to make political 
action one of his first concerns. With other Americans he had ac- 
cepted the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence without 
question; he now began to feel that the only equality he possessed 
was the equality of manhood suffrage, and he wished to use that 
franchise to procure the changes he desired. The candidacy of An- 
drew Jackson and the platform of the new Democratic party gave 
workingmen a focus in national politics; for local issues they created 
their own party or parties, for each large city had its own. The 
first labor party in world history was organized in Philadelphia in 
July i8z8. 22 The new party had as its organ the Mechanics' Free 
Press, and in New York a similar local party had the benefit of 
Frances Wright's Free Enquirer and of a new paper, the Working 
Man's Advocate, with which she was so closely affiliated that its 
platform was nicknamed "the Fanny Wright ticket." 

The demands of labor were much the same everywhere. Labor 
party platforms proposed (i) equal universal education, (2) the 


abolition of imprisonment for debt, (3) the abolition of licensed 
monopolies, (4) the revision of the militia system, (5) a less expen- 
sive legal system, (6) equal property taxes, (7) an effective lien 
law for laborers on buildings, (8) a district system of election, and 
(9) no legislation on religion and the removal of all religion restric- 
tions. This formal program was augmented by an eager espousal 
of almost every variety of reform. The workingmen championed 
the cause of temperance, the abolition of capital punishment, the 
abolition of child labor, and a ten-hour day, and they condemned 
lotteries, the "conspiracy" decisions, and competition with prison 
labor. Encouraged by some slight success in city elections the labor 
press in 1830 announced triumphantly: "From Maine to Georgia, 
within a few months past, we discern symptoms of a revolution which 
will be second to none save that of '76." And again, "Throughout 
this vast republic, the farmers, mechanics, and working men are 
assembling ... to impart to its laws and administration those prin- 
ciples of liberty and equality unfolded in the Declaration of our 
Independence." 28 

The year 1830 marked the peak of the activities of the working- 
men's parties. There was a decline in the next year, and in 1832 
separate political organization of labor was ended as the working- 
men flocked to the polls to re-elect Andrew Jackson, who was as 
much their idol as he was the hero of the new West. Then, as 
throughout the century since 1830, the American federal system 
was a barrier to the creation of a national labor party and a con- 
tributing cause for the abandonment of local political organizations. 
With the increase in prosperity after 1832 the workingmen turned 
to direct action for their own betterment, and the union movement 
grew at the expense of political combination. The climax came in 
1834 with the organization of the New England Association of 
Farmers, Mechanics and other Workingmen. This union of all kinds 
of workers showed great promise until the panic of 1837 put an end 
to its brief career. 

The depression that followed this panic was one of the worst the 
nation has ever experienced, and not until 1843 could any return of 
prosperity be noted. In September 1837 Niks' Register reported 
that nine tenths of the country's factories were closed and that there 


was unemployment everywhere. During the late thirties there were 
in all cities voluntary societies for relief of the poor. Many gave 
money; among those without money but with quickened sympathy 
was young Horace Greeley, who spent his days visiting New York's 
destitute. Years later he wrote: 

I saw two families, including six or eight children burrowing in one cellar 
under a stable, a prey to famine on the one hand and to vermin and 
cutaneous maladies on the other, with sickness adding its horrors to those 
of a polluted atmosphere and a wintry temperature. I saw some men who 
each, somehow, managed to support his family on an income of five 
dollars per week or less, yet who cheerfully gave something to mitigate 
the sufferings of those who were really poor. I saw three widows, with 
as many children, living in an attic on die profits of an apple stand which 
yielded less than three dollars per week, and the landlord came in for a 
full third of that. But worst to bear of all was the pitiful plea of stout, 
resolute, single young men and young women: "We do not want alms; 
we are not beggars; we hate to sit here day by day idle and useless; help 
us to work, we want no other help; why is it that we have nothing 
to do?" 2 * 

In those dark years labor lost all its gains, and labor unions were 
abandoned. Whereas the demand for workers during the preceding 
boom had given labor a basis for collective bargaining, unemploy- 
ment produced docility and gave employers an advantage they were 
not to lose until the Civil War period. Meanwhile the cause of the 
workingman was furthered more through the efforts of sympathetic 
humanitarians than through those of the workingmen themselves. 

Frances Wright was not the only person of importance to cham- 
pion the cause of labor. Robert Dale Owen and his fellow worker 
at New Harmony, Phiquepol d'Arusmont, whom Miss Wright 
later married, were with her from the first. In 1829 Orestes Brown- 
son, then a Universalist minister, heard her lecture and became 
interested in the Owen-Wright theories. He contributed various 
articles to the Free Enquirer, was associated with the Working 
Man's party in New York, and was for many years a Democrat. 
Brownson became a consistent defender of the rights of minorities, 
and in his editorials in the Democratic Review and in his many lec- 
tures he advocated free schools, industrial education, and social jus- 
tice. Others sought a solution, in the fashion characteristic of the 
time, by establishing socialist Utopias for the working classes. 

Robert Oweris dream phalanstery 

New Harmony as it 

Frances Wright, 
courageous dreamer 

Nashoba-the desolate reality of Frances Wright's dream 



Through a series of articles entitled 'What Shall Be Done about 
Labor?" which he wrote for the New Yorker, Horace Greeley 
came in touch with Albert Brisbane, who had studied in Paris the 
theories of the French socialists, Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. 
Greeley accepted many of Brisbane's ideas, and together they wrote 
for the Future, the Tribune, and also occasionally for the Plebeian, 
the Democrat, and the Dial Brisbane was already the author of The 
Social Destiny of Man, an exposition of the doctrines of Fourier, 
and in 1843 he published A Concise Exposition of the Doctrine of 
Association, which became the Bible of American Fourierism. These 
two crusaders for social reorganization were joined by Parke 
Godwin, whose Popular View of the Doctrines of Charles Fourier 
brought those doctrines nearer the level of the common man. 

Brisbane's philosophy was most clearly expressed in a quotation 
given in his wife's Albert Brisbane: A Mental Biography: 

Far away in the distant future I saw a globe resplendent, cultivated and 
embellished, transformed into the grandest and most beautiful work of 
art by the combined efforts of humanity. I saw upon it a race developed, 
perfected by the continued influence, generation after generation, of 
true social institutions; a humanity worthy of that Cosmic Soul of which 
I instinctively felt it to be a part. 25 

Horace Greeley summarized his own social creed in the following 
terms: There should be no paupers and no surplus labor; unem- 
ployment indicates sheer lack of brains, and inefficiency in produc- 
tion and waste in consumption of the product of a national industry 
that has never worked to half its capacity have resulted in social 
anarchy; isolation is the curse of the laboring classes, and only in 
unity can a solution be found for the problems of labor; therefore, 
education is the great desideratum, and in association the future 
may be assured. 26 

These views were in accord with Brisbane's somewhat loftier 
statement, but the two men in action were poor team-mates. Bris- 
bane was nonplused at the rapid spread of the idea of association in 
response to Greeley's newspaper campaign. He had expected years 
of hard work and a slow accumulation of capital before the first 
Fourierist phalanx could be established. He felt that no association 
could succeed until all "the faculties of the soul found adequate ex- 


pression" within the community. Life within the phalanx must be 
more attractive in every way than that in the world outside. But 
Greeley was eager to try the associative idea in miniature as an im- 
mediate palliative for the hardships of depression. 

As we have seen, the Brook Farm experiment in Fourierism was 
disappointing for Greeley and Brisbane and disastrous for the Farm. 
Many other short-lived phalanxes were formed between forty and 
fifty in all: six each in New York and Pennsylvania, eight in Ohio, 
three in Massachusetts, two in New Jersey, and others in Illinois, 
Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Iowa. 27 Their average duration 
was two years and that only because one of them lasted twelve 

Only two of these attempts merit further mention. The Sylvania 
Phalanx, established in 1842, was the first and had Greeley for its 
treasurer. Its site, selected by a landscape painter, a doctor, and a 
cooper, was some twenty-three hundred acres of land in northern 
Pennsylvania, where land was 'cheap because of barren soil and lack 
of access to markets. On the land were an old gristmill and three 
frame houses, which were expected to accommodate more than a 
hundred settlers from the New York and Albany working classes. 
Only four acres of the land were tillable, and the return on it in the 
one year of the settlement was eleven bushels of grain. The experi- 
ment cost Greeley five thousand dollars, which hL heirs eventually 
recovered from the increased value of the timber growing on the 
original tract. 

The North American Phalanx, founded in 1843, was the Fouri- 
erist colony that lasted for twelve years. Brisbane, Godwin, Gree- 
ley, Ripley, and Channing were all interested in it and much was 
written about it. Noyes called it the "test-experiment on which 
Fourierism practically staked its all in this country." 

The site chosen was near Red Bank, New Jersey, where good 
farm land and easy access to markets were available. In September 
1843 a few families took possession and began the construction of 
community buildings. Within a year the number of residents rose to 
ninety, and it was never much larger. Agriculture was expected 
to be the chief occupation of the association, but a gristmill was 
built and a few small industries were carried on under the Fourier 
system of groups and series. The original investment was eight 


thousand dollars; in 1852 the value of the property was estimated 
at eighty thousand dollars with an outstanding debt of less than 
twenty thousand. Greeley was probably correct in stating, when 
the colony disbanded in 1854, that financial failure was not the 
cause, for when all books were closed the stockholders were paid 
two thirds of the face value of their shares. 

Each member was given the choice of the work he should per- 
form, and each worked as much or as little as he chose. The wage 
scale varied, the highest rate, about ten cents an hour, going to 
"necessary but repulsive" labor and 'the lowest to agreeable work. 
Each worker was credited with the amount and kind of his or her 
labor each day and paid in full every month, any profits being di- 
vided annually. Rent was charged for lodging, and meals were 
served i la carte, with a small monthly dining room service charge. 
The earnings of phalanx members were low, but so were all living 
costs. The members were somewhat on the Brook Farm order and 
were for the most part congenial and happy. Many of them said in 
later years that the experience in the phalanx was the happiest part 
of their lives. But realization of Brisbane's ideal of a socially com- 
plete community was as distant in 1854 as in 1843. 

All the many visitors to the North American Phalanx mention 
the pleasant friendly atmosphere, but they do not fail to state that 
plain living, no luxuries, and few comforts were the accompani- 
ment of high thinking. Fredrika Bremer included a careful de- 
scription of Red Bank in her Homes of the New^ World. She 
mentioned all the attractive features of cooperative housekeeping, 
economic security, and simple but comfortable living, but she con- 
cluded with the wail of the true individualist, that she would rather 
live "on the bleakest granite mountain of Sweden, alone by myself, 
and live on bread, and water, and potatoes . . . than in a Phalan- 
stery on the most fertile soil, in the midst of associate brethren and 
sisters!" 28 

The members of the phalanx must have at heart agreed with her. 
When their mill burned in 1854 and they met to consider Greeley's 
offer of a loan to finance rebuilding, some intrepid soul unexpect- 
edly moved that they make no effort to rebuild but instead dissolve 
the phalanx, and much to their own surprise, the motion carried by 
a large majority. What a free people might choose to create in the 


way of association, they were equally free to undo, and the rejec- 
tion of the principle was as voluntary as its adoption. 


Only one other American Utopia need be described. It, too, was 
European in origin, but, unlike the Owen and Fourier settlements, 
it was European in personnel as well. Etienne Cabet was born in 
Dijon, France, in 1788, the son of a cooper. Becoming interested 
in democracy in a day when democracy was criminal radicalism, he 
joined the French Carbonari, was imprisoned and exiled for his po- 
litical beliefs, and became recognized as a socialist leader. In 1840 
he published a book entitled Le Voyage en Icarie, which elaborated 
his idea of a communistic society. This treatise was widely read and 
was followed by the publication of other tracts and a periodical, 
Populaire, further describing the sort of social order he wished to 
create. Groups of urban artisans were formed all over France to 
study his theories. They adopted the name Icarian and subscribed 
with enthusiasm to all his writings. 

In May 1847, when his followers were said to number four 
million, Cabet suggested that they found their Icaria in the new 
American state of Texas, a site selected apparently on the advice of 
Robert Owen, with whom Cabet was in correspondence. Soon 
Cabet was visited by agents of the ever-alert land companies, and he 
selected for the settlement a vast tract of a million acres in the val- 
ley of the Red River, "a beautiful stream," Populaire declared, 
"navigable up to our very settlement, and we will be able to extend 
our territory indefinitely." 29 Early in February 1848, without wait- 
ing for the report of agents sent to inspect the lands in Texas, more 
than three hundred men embarked for Icaria, after agreeing to ac- 
cept Cabet as dictator for a period of ten years. 

This advance guard reached New Orleans on the 27th of March, 
only to be met with disillusionment. Shreveport, Louisiana, could 
be reached by boat, but Icaria lay two hundred and fifty miles be- 
yond, across a trackless wilderness of prairies, swamps, trees, and 
unbridged streams. They could acquire but one wagon and three ox 
teams; all their bulky equipment had to be left in Shreveport. On 
the long march scores fell ill, food was scarce, and their hardships 
were almost unbearable. And when they reached the Red River 


lands the chimera of a million fertile acres vanished. Each settler 
was to have a half section provided he built a house on it by July i ; 
after that date he would have to buy his land at the rate of a dollar 
an acre. But worse than that, the half sections were not contiguous 
but were separated by other half sections retained by the company, 
whose own grant from Texas had been in the form of alternate 

The valiant settlers did manage by July i to secure more than 
ten thousand acres scattered in two townships but how could they 
found a commune with unitary dining halls and cooperative agri- 
culture? Unused to farming and totally ignorant of prairie condi- 
tions, they broke the plow instead of the prairie, and the season 
ended in complete discouragement. Letters to Cabet stated that the 
Texas project must be abandoned, that heat and fever had sapped 
their strength and famine faced them if they remained. 

The effect on Cabet of this apparent failure of his Texas Utopia 
is illuminating. He charged his people with imprudence and care- 
lessness; they had attempted too much and had wasted their re- 
sources and sapped their energies in the process. He seems never to 
have considered that he was in any way to blame or to have admitted 
that a leader should have made investigations before trusting his 
people to the vicissitudes of a distant and unknown country. This 
same inability to face realities and the same reliance on some sort of 
special providence was shown when Cabet said that he lacked funds 
and might consider his course hopeless if the whole Icarian project 
were not based upon such grand truths that it must win universal 
sympathy and open universal purse strings. 80 With this touching 
confidence in miracles, Cabet set forth himself to lead his flock to 
whatever haven they might find outside the cruel state of Texas. 

It is interesting to speculate upon the possible course of events if 
a revolution had not occurred in France in 1848, if Cabet had been 
able as he had, of course, intended to capitalize upon the wide- 
spread discontent with the Bourgeois Monarchy, and if he had been 
able to lead to America the two thousand colonists whom he had 
confidently expected, supported by the money of the million who 
would stay at home. Would Icaria have been a success? Would ra- 
tional, democratic communism have survived its contact with the 
Western frontier? On the other hand, it is interesting to consider 


whether after the revolution Cabet might not have recalled the first 
expedition and have thrown in his lot with the leftist groups in the 
Second Republic, if he had been on good terms with Ledru-Rollin 
and Louis Blanc, the French socialist leaders. 

As it was, February 1849 found Cabet and four hundred and 
eighty Icarians in New Orleans with no homes and a capital of less 
than fifty dollars apiece. Many of the less sanguine soon decided 
to sever their connections with the movement. Some returned to 
France; others found employment in New Orleans. Exploring par- 
ties sent out to select a home for the rest found one made to order 
in the town of Nauvoo, Illinois, from which the Mormons had 
recently departed. On the i5th of March two hundred and sixty 
French Icarians reached Nauvoo, twenty having died of fever on 
the river journey from New Orleans. After Texas, conditions in 
Nauvoo must have seemed ideal to these urban workinginen. Houses 
were to be had for a song, and the Icarians bought fifteen acres in 
the town, including a compact group of houses, the Mormon mill 
and distillery, and the buildings around "Temple Square." 

For five years the Icarians were happy and prosperous. They 
constructed community buildings and used the old Mormon arsenal 
as a workshop for their various crafts,, They operated a sawmill, a 
flour mill, and a distillery and all the whisky was offered for sale, 
since the Icarians used neither alcohol nor tobacco. They rented a 
thousand acres of land, which they cultivated with great care. Their 
school, newspaper, print shop, and library were notable. Much of 
Icarian propaganda literature was published at Nauvoo and sent 
back to Paris for distribution. The Icarian musical and theatrical 
performances were regarded as village assets and attracted many 
visitors. The French were quiet and industrious and were looked 
upon with favor by their neighbors, who still vividly remembered 
the turbulent Mormons. To be sure, their communism was an ec- 
centricity and their irreligion might be condemned, but their morals 
were good and their manners excellent. 

Within five years the number of Icarians doubled. The collapse 
of the Second Republic caused many French radicals to renew their 
interest in their comrades overseas, and Cabet hoped Nauvoo would 
be but one colony among many. Land was purchased in his name 
in Iowa, and a small group of men was sent there to bring it under 


cultivation and to build homes for a new settlement. The increasing 
business activity of the community and his own increased responsi- 
bilities led Cabet in 1850 to seek incorporation under the laws of 
Illinois. The state legislature, however, was still smarting from the 
struggle with Joseph Smith and was reluctant to incorporate any 
peculiar society without assurance of its democratic, or at least re- 
publican, organization. It was necessary, therefore, for Cabet to 
relinquish his position as dictator and to provide Icaria with a con- 
stitution. The document he drew up was long, extremely democratic, 
and replete with assertions of its conformity with the sentiments of 
the Declaration of Independence. 81 

But the creator of Icaria did not thereby surrender his desire to 
exercise power. Icaria was his lif ework and dearest interest; only 
he could presume to direct its policies and oversee its daily life. For 
five years the people dutifully elected men of his choice for the 
board of directors, and the directors in turn elected Cabet their 
president. But he was nearing seventy and growing more arbitrary 
and more visionary; opposition to his rule was inevitable. In the 
August election of 1856 the anti-Cabet faction secured a majority 
of the directors, but on Cabet's advice the retiring members of the 
board refused to surrender their offices, and the Nauvoo police had 
to intervene to prevent bloodshed while the majority party forcibly 
seated the men of its choice. 

Personal success now came to mean more to Cabet than the wel- 
fare of his colony. He discredited the majority with the French 
society and stopped all flow of money from France, he refused to 
surrender title to the Iowa lands or to the Nauvoo holdings, and he 
sought to undermine the confidence of the creditors of the commu- 
nity. His minority party refused to cooperate, and the controversy 
spread so that there were miniature wars in all departments, includ- 
ing the kindergarten. Even in the dining room the two factions 
glowered at each other from separate tables. After an unsuccessful 
attempt to wreck the settlement by having the legislature repeal its 
charter, Cabet admitted his defeat by withdrawing from Nauvoo to 
St. Louis with one hundred and eighty faithful followers. Much 
to their sorrow, this move was almost immediately followed by 
Cabet's death. In November 1856 a stroke of apoplexy ended the 
life of the doughty old fighter. 


The panic of 1857 ^^ ^e ensuing depression presented both fac- 
tions with problems difficult to solve. The St. Louis group bought, 
largely on credit, a small estate six miles from St. Louis, where they 
endeavored to build the "true Icaria." They were beset with fur- 
ther dissension and secession and finally, in 1864, turned their prop- 
erty over to their creditors and disbanded. The Nauvoo group 
found it impossible in the depression to sell enough goods to keep 
up the payments on the colony's debts, and they, too, abandoned 
their homes to their creditors. The majority party had, however, 
retained possession of the Iowa lands, although the Cabet heirs re- 
fused to surrender title, and the colonists therefore packed their 
goods and moved to what was then almost a wilderness. They sold 
enough of their land to complete the payments on the rest, and 
there, poor and hard-working but relatively content, they lived un- 
til 1895, when they voted to distribute their property and dissolve 
the communal ties. 

Once more the hospitable American frontier had received a pecul- 
iar people whose desire it was to live apart and according to its 
own theories and ideals, and once more it had slowly added its pres- 
sures of individualism and opportunity to the stresses of internal 
friction to bring about the end of the experiment. Icaria sank, as 
had other bright hopes, into the main stream of American life, its 
ideals not fully realized but contributing their share to the demo- 
cratic philosophy of the New World. 


Humanitarian Crusades 

William Lloyd Garrison was expressing the spirit of his day 
when he exclaimed, "I shall assume, as self-evident truths, that the 
liberty of a people is a gift of God and nature . . . that the right 
to be free is a truth planted in the hearts of men, and acknowledged 
so to be by all that have hearkened to the voice of nature." x This 
right to be free, rooted deep in democracy and evangelical religion, 
needed only to be coupled to nineteenth-century faith in progress to 
produce a crusading zeal that swept men into all sorts of reform 
movements designed to perfect the institutions of contemporary 

Human freedom came to have many aspects for the reformer, 
who was so fundamentally a perfectionist. His vision was of an 
America whose government, based on popular consent, should func- 
tion to prevent the denial of the liberties of the individual, to pro- 
tect the rights of the unfortunate, and to prohibit the mistreatment 
of the delinquent. And he saw that upon his shoulders rested the 
burden of educating the youth of the republic to recognize its civic 
obligations and to strive for the betterment of society. 

From the first these humanitarian reformers were outspoken in 
favor of revising the" penal codes and liberalizing all legislation deal- 
ing with debtors. They also recognized society's responsibility to- 
ward the orphan, the impoverished, and the defective, and aware of 
the effect of environment upon the individual, they became advo- 
cates of temperance and of universal peace. Convinced, too, that it 
was the destiny of his country to lead mankind toward a better 
life, the nineteenth-century crusader easily became antif oreign when 
he felt American institutions to be menaced by ideas from abroad, 
and his evangelical Protestantism was quick to alarm when foreign 
Catholics flocked to the shores of his homeland. 

American women worked zealously for each of these reforms 
until they reached the limits set for them by men, whose liberalism 



and willingness to experiment stopped short at certain barriers of 
custom and prejudice. Then women turned a part of their attention 
to acquiring for themselves, in the name of their common human- 
ity, some of that freedom of opportunity they had sought for 

Men and women both realized that the equalitarianism of Ameri- 
can democracy made the presence of Negro slavery incongruous 
and anachronistic in a free and humane society. Entangled with 
every phase of American life in that period, a background for every 
crusade, the slavery question became the central issue for all re- 
formers, and eventually the antislavery cause absorbed all the enter- 
prise of those who sought to perfect the institutions of the young 


Education and the American Faith 

The very close connection between education and religious faith 
in early America, and one important reason for it, are well ex- 
pressed in the phrases inscribed on the west gateway of Harvard 












Institutions of higher learning were established and maintained to 
educate young men for the ministry, and the piety prescribed by 
the theocracy permeated elementary education as well. From the 
first primer, which taught the alphabet in religious couplets begin- 

A In Adam's fall 
We sinned all 

through the Dilworth reader (1740), whose first lesson began, 

No Man may put off the Law of God. 
The Way or God is no ill Way. 
My Joy is in God all the Day. 
A bad Man is a Foe to God. 

to the weighty tomes on the desk of the theologian, all education 
was impregnated with religious teaching. This indoctrination was 
most pronounced in Puritan New England but was inevitable every- 
where in the colonies, whether children were taught in schools, by 
private tutors, or in the homes, for the same texts were used, and 
the final authority on all matters of education was the clergy. Co- 
lonial teachers were more often than not lads whose principal in- 
terest was training for the ministry. 

In colonial New England, where the democracy of the town 


In Adam's Fall 
We finned all. 

Thy Life to mend, 
God's Book attend. 

The Cat doth play, 
And after flay% 

A Dog will bite 
A Thief at Night. 

The Eagle's Flight 
Is out of Sight* 

gjj| iKsJ ll slhool 

As runs the Glafs, 
Man's life doth pals. 

My Book and Heart 
Shall never part* 

Job feels the Rod, 

Proud Korah'stroo p 
Was fwallowM up. 

The Lion bold 
The Lambdoth 

The Moon gives light 
In Time ot 

In Time of Spring. 

The royal Oak, it 
was the Tree 

That favM his roy- 
al Majefljr. 

Peter denies 

Queen Either comes 
in royal State, 

To fare the Jews 
from difmal Fate. 

Rachael doth mourn 
For her firil bora- 
Samuel anoints 
Whom Godap* 

I Time cuts down all, 
IBothgreatand fmaU. 

I! Uriah's beauteous 


Made David feek 
his life. 

Whales in the Sea 
God's Voice obey. 

Xerxes the Great 

did die. 
And fo muft you 

and I. 

Youth forward flips, 
Death iboneft nips* 

Zaccheus, be 
Did climb theTree, 
Hb Lord to fee. 

An alphabet of jingles from a primer printed in Boston about 1800 



meeting early made common schools possible, it is probable that a 
large majority of the children were properly instructed in the con- 
sequences of "Adam's fall" and that they were taught to write, to 
"cipher," and to spell after a fashion. 1 Elsewhere elementary in- 
struction was less universal and the common school less well known. 
In all back-country areas illiteracy was widespread, and the man 
who made his X on a legal document represented a majority of the 
community. And even in New England there was little concern 
over the education of girls. In 1782 the Reverend John Eliot wrote 
to his friend and fellow minister, Jeremy Belknap of Dover, New 

We don't pretend to teach y e female part of y e town anything more 
than dancing, or a little music perhaps . . . except y e private schools 
for writing, which enables them to write a copy, sign their name &c, 
which they might not be able to do without such a privilege. 2 

But neither in New England nor in the other colonies were men 
of enlightenment satisfied with the condition of American schools. 
In 1749 Benjamin Franklin, who was himself largely self-educated, 
published a pamphlet entitled Proposals Relating to the Education 
of Youth in Pensilvania, which reads like the prospectus of a pro- 
gressive school of the twentieth century. It was based upon a psy- 
chology of learning that must have been the product of Franklin's 
own experience, for he stated that "learning comes by doing" and 
advocated using concrete examples and illustrations first, proceed- 
ing to abstract ideas only after the concrete evidence was well in 
mind. He recommended that modern languages be taught before 
ancient and that the student be led from a study of history to the 
consideration of customs, political institutions, and legal and eco- 
nomic theories. 

There is no evidence that Franklin's program was adopted by 
any contemporary school or that it made even a stir of comment 
among schoolmen, but the Junto of young men the sage was in- 
strumental in founding in Philadelphia put some of his ideas into 
effect in their efforts at self -education. These eighteenth-century 
youths met as a discussion group, and in their cooperative library 
they furnished a precedent for later school and public libraries. 

Franklin was instrumental, also, in founding a nonsectarian school 
that was later to be the University of Pennsylvania and in establish- 


ing in 1765 the first school of medicine in the colonies. He was also 
interested in industrial and mechanical education and left money to 
both Boston and Philadelphia to provide loan funds for poor stu- 
dents. It was in his Poor Richard's Almanack, however, that Frank- 
lin showed himself to be the inveterate schoolteacher. Utilitarian 
and pragmatic, the homely wit of Poor Richard's maxims carried 
Franklin's teachings to thousands of loyal Americans. 

During the period of the American Revolution statesmen turned 
their attention to the problem of educating those upon whose shoul- 
ders would fall the burden of making a success of the new republi- 
can form of government. The instruction of the people, wrote John 
Adams, in the practice of "their political and civil duties, as mem- 
bers of society and freemen, ought to be the care of the public, and 
of all who have any share in the conduct of its affairs in a manner 
that never yet has been practised in any age or nation." And in 1779 
Thomas Jefferson wrote: 

Even under the best forms [of government], those entrusted with 
power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; 
and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would 
be to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large 
. . . whence it becomes expedient for promoting the publick happiness 
that those persons, whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue, 
should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to 
guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citi- 
zens, and that they should be called to that charge without regard to 
wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance. 8 

Jefferson advocated for Virginia state-supported elementary 
schools in each locality from which promising boys should be chosen 
for further education at state expense. The parents of other chil- 
dren were, of course, to be free to send them to private schools. 
The capstone of this structure of public and private schools was to 
be the University of Virginia, which he designed to be free, secu- 
lar, and state-supported. In writing to George Wythe in support of 
his views Jefferson urged, 

Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and im- 
prove the law for educating the common people. . . . The tax which 
will be paid for this purpose, is not more than the thousandth part of 
what wiH be paid to longs, priests, and nobles, who will rise up among us 
if we leave the people in ignorance. 4 


The Old Dominion failed to follow Jefferson's advice in regard 
to elementary and secondary education but did establish the univer- 
sity, and to the building of this Jefferson devoted the last years of 
his life. His interest in science and government was reflected in the 
university's curriculum. No provision was made for a professor of 
divinity, nor was there to be the rigid discipline prescribed in con- 
temporary colleges. The university administration was to be demo- 
cratic, vocational training was to be encouraged, and students were 
to be free to elect such courses as might best serve their needs. 

Although less interested in educational theory and curriculums 
than his fellow Virginian, George Washington again and again ex- 
pressed his conviction that the new republic must have a literate 
citizenry. In his will he stated his reasons for desiring a national 

It has always been a source of serious regret with me to see the youth 
of these United States sent to foreign countries for the purpose of edu- 
cation, often before their minds were formed, or they had imbibed any 
adequate ideas of the happiness of their own, contracting too frequently, 
not only habits of dissipation and extravagance, but principles unfriendly 
to Republican Government, and to the true and genuine liberties of 
mankind, which thereafter are rarely overcome. For these reasons it has 
been my ardent wish to see a plan devised on a liberal scale which would 
have a tendency to spread systematic ideas through all parts of this rising 
Empire, thereby to do away with local attachments and state prejudices, 
as far as the nature of things would, or indeed ought to admit, from our 
national councils. Looking anxiously forward to the accomplishment of 
so desirable an object as this is ... my mind has not been able to con- 
template any plan more likely to effect the measure than a University in 
a central part of the United States, to which the youths of fortune and 
talents from all parts thereof might be sent for the completion of their 
education, in all the branches of polite literature, in arts and sciences, in 
acquiring knowledge in the principles of Politics and good Government. 5 

Washington's noble plan for a great national university that might 
eliminate sectionalism among the country's leaders was not accepted 
by his or kter generations, but less prominent men continued to 
approach the problem of education in a republic from other angles. 
A young man of New England, Noah Webster, became aware 
shortly after the Revolution that all the appurtenances of education 
were still British, and in studying the textbook situation he devel- 
oped a philosophy of education that he published under the tide, 


On the Education of Youth. American education, he said, must be 
freed from ecclesiastical tyranny and from dependence upon Eu- 
rope. As a part of his effort toward that end he issued in 1783 his 
first speller. In this "old blue-backed Spelling Book" and in his later 
American Reader and American Grammar* Webster earned the 
title of "the Schoolmaster of America." 

Webster's teaching was pragmatic, and his recommendations 
were utilitarian. He maintained that in a country that did not sup- 
port a leisure class too much attention to dead languages was un- 
wise. English translations of the classics would bring the wisdom 
of the ages home to young Americans, and the time saved by the 
elimination of Greek and Latin might well be spent on the study of 
history and government and on training in the use of the vernacular. 
His textbooks were immediately and permanently popular. Within 
a decade fifty impressions of twenty-five thousand copies each had 
been made of the American Spelling Book, and the grand total pub- 
lished in the nineteenth century is said to have been one hundred 
million copies. The Reader and the Grammar were almost as widely 
used, and the three together determined American usage for gener- 
ations. In the decade before 1800 Webster published also An Ameri- 
can Selection, containing patriotic speeches and brief sections on 
history and geography, a New England Primer, which substituted 
"A was an Apple Pie made by the Cook" for the traditional remark 
about Adam, and the Little Reader's Assistant, a collection of short 
stories with a "Farmer's Catechism" added for good measure. 

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Webster's work 
as a writer of textbooks. He provided, as he had intended, a frame- 
work for education that was free from ecclesiastical tyranny and 
European dictation. With the publication of his great American 
Dictionary of the English Language in 1828 he completed his work 
as a scholar and established his principle that English is "a living 
language and admits of no fixed state." But it was in the statement 
of his philosophy as an author that he left his best legacy to the 
American student: "The basis of all excellence in writing and con- 
versation is truth truth is intellectual gold, which is as durable as 
it is splendid and valuable." T 

From the beginning, therefore, American leaders were interested 
in the spread of education and the reform of its techniques as a 


necessity for the success of republican institutions. For many years, 
however, there was little response to the call for reform. It was not 
until the common man became conscious of the privileges of which 
he had been deprived and used the suffrage he had acquired to de- 
mand education for his children that the state turned to a considera- 
tion of the common school. This movement was in accord with the 
humanitarianism of the time, and the reformers joined the working- 
men in seeking remedies for the defects in the educational system. 
No reform of the 1830*5 and 1840*5 aroused greater interest than did 
that of education, and the champions of its cause were prolific in 
schemes and methods of curing its ills. Some of the best phrased ap- 
peals for reform were enunciated in the Southern states, where there 
was little legislation on the matter of education. The Southern Lit- 
erary Messenger for May i, 1836, stated: 

Heretofore, and at present to a certain extent, learning has ever belonged 
to a few, constituting a single class of society which was, of course, the 
repository of all moral and intellectual power; and these few, having 
the power in their own group, moulded and wielded the destinies of 
society. Thus, the elevation of society has ever been characterized by 
the moral and intellectual education of a single class, and as this class has 
been cultivated communities have risen or fallen. Thus, the history of 
society has ever been, like the waves of a rolling sea, a series of fluctua- 
tions. . . . Now this principle of universal mental cultivation destroys 
this usurping, tyrannizing system. It takes from the few the power of 
holding and disposing of the rights of the many, giving to the many the 
same mental superiority and knowledge. The promotion and the general 
well-being of society by a cultivation of the heart and intellect is im- 
pliedly required of Americans, from the nature and structure of our 
government. 8 

And from Ohio in the Old Northwest came similar sentiments ex- 
pressed even more forcibly: 

Other nations have hereditary sovereigns, and one of the most impor- 
tant duties of their governments is to take care of the education of the 
heir to the throne; these children all about your streets, who cannot even 
speak your language, are your ftrture sovereigns. Is it not important that 
they be well educated? 9 

The work of propaganda went on unabated for more than a 
quarter of a century. The Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion 
of Public Schools did valiant service; the American Lyceum, founded 
by Josiah Holbrook in 1826, had as one of its major purposes the 


improvement of schools; and the Western Academic Institute, or- 
ganized in Cincinnati in 1826, brought Lyman Beecher, Calvin 
Stowe, and Samuel Lewis into the fight. Articles in the new educa- 
tional journals, reports of investigators sent abroad, prize essay con- 
tests, and annual public conventions increased the enthusiasm. Slowly 
in many states public pressure forced the enaction of laws providing 
for new school systems or for the modernization of old ones. That 
such effort was conscious and effective was evidenced by the com- 
ments of many European travelers and was, perhaps, best expressed 
by the careful and sympathetic Francis Grand. 

The most remarkable characteristic of Americans [he wrote] is the un- 
common degree of intelligence which pervades all classes. I do not here 
speak of the higher branches of learning which, in the language of Eu- 
rope, constitute scholarship; but of the great mass of useful knowledge 
calculated to benefit and improve the conditions of mankind. It is this 
latter knowledge for which the Americans are distinguished, and for the 
attainment of which titiey have, perhaps, made better provision than any 
other nation in the world. ... It is certainly not to be expected that 
republicans should tax themselves in order to gratify certain elegant 
tastes which are of no immediate benefit to the public. . . . But let any 
one cast his eye on the sums annually expended for the establishment 
and support of common schools and colleges, and he will, at once, be 
convinced of the liberality of Americans in the cause of education. . . . 
Who upon entering an American school-room and witnessing the con- 
tinual exercise in reading and speaking, or listening to the subject of their 
discourses, and watching the behavior of the pupils toward each other 
and their teachers, could, for a moment, doubt his being amongst a con- 
gregation of young republicans? ... it would only be necessary to 
conduct some doubting European politician to an American school-room 
to convince him at once thaj: there is no immediate prospect of trans- 
ferring royalty to the shores of the New World. 10 


When the attention of public-spirited men was turned toward 
education, they soon saw that there was little connection between 
existing institutions and the ideal of universal education as the nec- 
essary accompaniment of democratic government. In the Middle 
Atlantic states education at public expense was available only to 
those who were willing to admit to a state of pauperism, and in the 
South there was little more than lip service to the ideas of Jefferson. 
The frontier West had always asserted the democratic principle of 


free schools and had united with the federal government in granting 
land for school purposes, but thinness of settlement, lack of local in- 
terest, lack of teachers, and general poverty had prevented much 

Even in the New England states, where the common school had 
been provided for since the seventeenth century and where sec- 
ondary school education at public expense had been accepted in 
theory, the state of affairs was found to be shocking, especially 
in the rural or district schools. Surveys showed that the once praised 
common school had been grossly neglected and offered if anything 
less in the way of education than it had a century before. In rural 
New England the district schools were ill-ventilated hovels located 
without thought of beauty or comfort by the roadside somewhere 
near the center of the school district. The town paid for their con- 
struction and upkeep and for the salaries of the teachers, and the 
main objective of local school boards seemed to be to keep costs as 
low as possible. In his Fireside Education (1838) the popular au- 
thor, Samuel G. Goodrich, better known under his pen name of 
Peter Parley, wrote: 

The site for a school house is generally in the most neglected, because 
the cheapest, spot in the town; whereas it should be chosen with special 
reference to pleasantness of aspect. Its interior, too, should be cheerful 
and attractive. It ought to be a place loved by the pupils, associated with 
ideas of comfort, and not with recollections of despotism without and 
gloom within. ... Is it not a reproach to human nature that school 
committees, teachers and fathers, often select a site for a seminary for 
children with less regard to comfort of position than if they were mere 
animals? For the sheepf old and the cow-house, sheltered situations are 
carefully selected; but a bleak hill-top, swept by the winter blast, or a 
sandy plain, scorched by the dog-day sun, will do for a school-house, 
especially if it is so useless for everything else as to be given gratis to the 
district. 11 

Unpainted and desolate without, the district schools were equally 
unattractive within. The only furniture was a row of desks with 
backless benches of varying height, pkced against the four bare 
walls. Near the center of the room was a desk for the teacher and a 
few benches for classes "called up" for recitation. All the furniture 
was crudely knocked together from rough lumber; there were few 
windows, no blackboards, and no provision for ventilation or sani- 


ration. Heat was usually furnished by a fireplace, sometimes by a* 
stove, but in either case the children near the source of heat were 
nicely toasted, while the drinking water in a pail in the corner was 
covered with a film of ice. 

The teachers in these common schools were poorly paid and 
often little educated. The summer term, attended largely by little 
children and girls, was usually taught by a woman, whose salary 
was five or six dollars a month. A man teacher was provided for the 
winter term, which extended from December to March. His salary 
was higher, from seven to twelve dollars a month. These sums were 
not, however, the sole remuneration of teachers, for both men and 
women had the inestimable privilege of "boarding around" with the 
families of their pupils. The best teachers were undoubtedly the 
many young men and women who were procuring funds for their 
own education by teaching one or more terms each year; the worst 
were those failures from other professions who sought in teaching 
the livelihood their own incompetency, bad moral reputation, or 
constant inebriation had denied them elsewhere. In any case social 
standing and influence in the community were commensurate with 
the low salary. 

The miserable buildings were overcrowded, for the schools were 
few and American families were large. Amos Kendall, a Dartmouth 
student who earned a part of his college expenses by teaching, was 
in full charge, in 1810, of a one-room rural school attended by 
eighty-five pupils. It was ungraded, but he made an effort to sepa- 
rate the unwieldy mass into classes and noted in his diary that 
sixty-three were learning to write, while twenty-one studied arith- 
metic, nineteen English grammar, nine geography, two Latin, and 
one Greek. 12 Although young Kendall headed his class at Dart- 
mouth, it is problematical how much he taught the children of 
Weston, Massachusetts. In the iSzo's young Bronson Alcott taught 
eighty students in a school in Cheshire, Connecticut, and was paid 
the truly magnificent sum of one hundred and thirty-five dollars 
for four months' work. His opulence was lessened, however, by the 
fact that he used more than half his salary to buy blackboards and 
more comfortable desks for the children. 

Most teachers solved the many problems of discipline by con- 
stant recourse to the rod or ferule. Texts were few and dull, and 


the curriculum was restricted to the three R's, with whatever addi- 
tion of geography, history, and civics the teacher might find time 
for. Innovations in subject or method were not desired by either 
parents or school boards, nor were they possible with existing equip- 
ment and the heavy teaching loads. For most pupils the deadly mo- 
notonous reiteration of a few facts and repeated drill in certain 
elementary skills made up the educational process. Teacher train- 
ing, better school plants, and state supervision were the urgent re- 
forms demanded by all public-spirited citizens. 

The work of teacher training was begun by Samuel Read Hall 
in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1823. Hall was a minister who was 
at the same time profoundly interested in education. He was the 
entire faculty of the little normal school he started in his own home 
because he had become aware of the great need for trained teachers 
while he was earning his college funds by teaching in elementary 
schools. During the three years he remained in charge of the school 
more than two hundred students registered for one or more terms. 
Since it was an entirely new venture, Hall had to devise his own 
methods and write his own texts. He used blackboards and illustra- 
tive material and introduced geography, United States history, "nat- 
ural philosophy," and classes in science for older pupils. In 1829 his 
lectures were published the first book on education to be printed 
in the United States in the English language. There were thirteen 
lectures in all, covering the reasons for the current indifference to 
common schools, the obstacles to their usefulness, the proper train- 
ing of teachers, practical directions on discipline, management, cur- 
riculum, and methods, and one final chapter entitled "For Female 

So great was the fame of Hall's school that he was called down 
to Andover, Massachusetts, to head a new school connected with 
Phillips Academy. This, too, became a teacher training school with a 
"model school" for practice teaching. It provided a three-year course 
and maintained a bureau of appointments. Teachers* conventions 
were held, circulars were distributed, and itinerant teachers were 
sent out to furnish model classroom instruction. Between 1830 and 
1840 Hall published textbooks in geography, arithmetic, history, 
and grammar, all based on the latest methods and approach. In 1841 
he went back to the ministry but continued to teach in the schools 


of the parishes to which he ministered. He died in 1877, a decade 
after the publication of his last text, an Alphabet of Geology. 

In Massachusetts Hall worked with James Carter and Horace 
Mann for the establishment of normal schools and for legislative pro- 
vision for a state superintendent of education. In 1837 the office of 
state superintendent was created with Horace Mann as its first in- 
cumbent, and in 1839 the first state normal school in the United 
States was opened in the town hall of Lexington, Massachusetts. 
Nor was this just a Massachusetts reform. In 1832 James Wads- 
worth, New York state commissioner of education, ordered ten 
thousand copies of Hall's Lectures for the instruction of New York 
teachers, and two years later the state legislature provided for pro- 
fessional education for teachers by allotting funds for the purpose 
to private academies. Progress came in other states more slowly, but 
interest was heightened everywhere by the reports of Horace Mann 
and of Henry Barnard, who was named state superintendent of 
schools in Connecticut in 1838. 

When Mann accepted the post of state superintendent of educa- 
tion in Massachusetts, he was reproached for having given up a 
promising career as lawyer and legislator to promote a movement 
in which there would be no chance for honor or fame. His calm 
reply was, "If the tide is not sufficiently honorable now, then it is 
clearly left for me to elevate it; and I had rather be creditor than 
debtor to the tide." 18 In that spirit he worked indefatigably, fifteen 
hours a day, for twelve years. Even his vacations were busman's 
holidays, for he used them to tour other states and foreign countries 
investigating educational conditions. He was determined to make 
each annual report a battle in the campaign for better school build- 
ings, textbooks, libraries, and equipment. Through the Common 
School Journal, through teachers' conventions and institutes, and 
through the establishment of normal schools, he endeavored to raise 
the standards of teaching. At the same time he worked constandy 
to secure higher salaries for teachers through state support and in- 
creased local taxation. There was no phase of school management, 
discipline, or curriculum iu which he was not interested. His twelve 
long reports took up everything from corporal punishment to sub- 
stituting the word method of teaching children to read for the old 
alphabet type of instruction. 


Much of Mann's educational and social theory and many of his 
specific recommendations were too radical for the conservatives of 
the Massachusetts legislature as well as for Boston teachers, but dur- 
ing his years in office the state appropriations for education were 
doubled and millions were spent in the improvement of school build- 
ings. Teachers' salaries were increased, a month was added to the 
school year, and three normal schools were opened. These concrete 
achievements may have seemed slight to the man who had devoted 
twelve years to the cause of education, but as the inauguration of a 
campaign and as the formulation of a platform for the future Mann's 
activity was of vital importance. The old lethargy in regard to edu- 
cation disappeared from Massachusetts and from the country at 
large with the publication of his reports, and social reform along 
many lines was stimulated by his efforts. 

Mann's great reports assert his faith in democracy and his feeling 
that education was the only hope for the preservation of democratic 
institutions. "In a republic," he wrote, "ignorance is a crime; and 
private immorality is not less an opprobrium to the state than it is 
guilt to the perpetrator." 14 The social responsibility of the state and 
the duty of its citizens to assume that obligation received classic 
expression in the concluding sentences of his eighth report: 

If we do not prepare children to become good citizens if we do not 
develop their capacities, if we do not enrich their minds with knowledge, 
imbue their hearts with the love of truth and duty, and a reverence for 
all things sacred and holy, then our republic must go down to destruc- 
tion, as others have gone before it; and mankind must sweep through 
another vast cycle of sin and suffering, before the dawn of a better era 
can arise upon the world. It is for our government, and for that public 
opinion which, in a republic, governs the government to choose between 
these alternatives of weal or woe. 15 

This was the clarion cry of democratic humanitarianism. Other 
men lesser men perhaps answered it and carried on the work. 
Henry Barnard in Connecticut and in Rhode Island promoted pro- 
grams similar to those of Mann. In Pennsylvania the fight for edu- 
cational reforms turned on the question of whether state support 
should be given to all schools and all children or should provide 
only for the elementary education of the children of the poor. Few 
communities took advantage of the offer of state aid, made in the 


laws of 1802, 1804, and 1809, nor did indigent parents come for- 
ward to register themselves as paupers in order to claim the benefits 
of the laws. Some municipal public schools were established, and 
many religious sects Mennonites, Lutherans, Friends, German Re* 
formed opened schools of their own, but there was no new public 
school law until 1834, and then Thaddeus Stevens was its cham- 
pion. In his first speeches on education in the state legislature, Ste- 
vens asserted the rights of the common people and the necessity for 
free schools in terms that resemble those of the reports of Horace 
Mann. As a result of Stevens' efforts the bill became a law, and 
Pennsylvania joined the states engaged in increasing their facilities 
for education. 

In New Jersey, where a law of 1820 had made provision for 
pauper schools, a similar battle was fought. The supporters of free 
public schools for all children watched the debate in Pennsylvania 
eagerly and used the speeches of Thaddeus Stevens to good effect 
in their own campaign. In 1838 the fight was won, and the New 
Jersey system, worked out in the next decade, provided for the 
education of children of all classes at public expense. 

In the state of New York, also, there was a struggle over the re- 
moval of the distinction between pay and free pupils. The questions 
of state aid and of state supervision were equally troublesome, and 
it was long before New York was able to take the position of lead- 
ership commensurate with its wealth and political importance. In 
1812 a law was passed that established a system of public schools to 
be supported in part by state aid, in part by a local tax, and in part 
by "rate bills" on parents. The urban centers found the rate bill 
intolerable as workingmen came to have more voice in city affairs. 
By special legislation city school systems were organized under lo- 
cal boards of education, and local taxes for school purposes were 
permitted. Before 1850 a large number of cities maintained public 
schools that were entirely free. 

In New York City this was accomplished through the work of 
the Free School Society, a private corporation of which De Witt 
Clinton was the first president and largest subscriber. Established in 
1805, fr opened its first free school in 1809 and thereafter gradually 
assumed charge of all the public schools in the city. Under the man- 


agement of a board of trustees it administered the funds subscribed 
by private philanthropy and those obtained from state and local 
governments, and for most of the thirty-five and more years of its 
history it made no distinction between the children of the well-to-do 
and those of the poor. 

The rural districts of New York were more conservative, more 
conscious of the rights of property, and less willing to assume civic 
responsibility. They maintained district schools for the minimum 
four-month terms necessary to secure state aid, but were unwilling 
to go farther. A statewide campaign in the 1840'$ brought enough 
appeals for free state-supported schools to result in a referendum at 
the fall elections. The campaign was one of much propaganda and 
many speeches, slogans, and songs, one of the best of which in- 
cluded the following stanza: 

Then free as air should knowledge be - 

And open Wisdom's portal, 
To every thirsty, earnest soul, 

Who longs to be immortal. 
Here rich and poor stand side by side, 

To quaff life's purest chalice, 
And never dream that deathless names 

Belong to cot or palace. 16 

Forced by public opinion to some sort of action, the legislature 
compromised by increasing state aid and providing for "union dis- 
tricts" that might establish free schools by local taxation. The rate 
bill was retained but for a rapidly decreasing area. In 1867 it was 
finally abolished. In the following year it was eliminated in Con- 
necticut as well. Hard as it had been to win the battle with the re- 
luctant taxpayer, victory was at last assured in the Northern states. 
The newer Western states soon fell into line, and their school 
systems were built on the basis of equal opportunity for all children 
at public expense. Gradually special charges upon parents were 
abolished, normal schools were established, and the pay and social 
standing of teachers were bettered. In the iSjo's the South, too, 
made rapid progress toward abolishing pauper schools and estab- 
lishing free public school systems. The total effect of the changes 
all over the country was revolutionary in nature. There was a great 
increase in the number of schools and in the number of pupils, sec- 


ondary schools were built, state and local governments increased 
their support, and the necessity for state supervision was recog- 

Although the need for the secularization of schools and texts had 
been admitted from the beginning, American mid-century ideals 
still demanded that the schools be Christian and highly moral. Edu- 
cators were often first of all clergymen, and many teachers were, 
as always before, youths preparing for the ministry. Education in 
frontier areas continued to be a missionary enterprise. Everywhere 
private academies and small colleges were founded with the major 
purpose of combining religious indoctrination and higher educa- 
tion, and denominational theological schools were still, for many 
educators, the summit of the process. 17 


The stubbornness of the opposition to free schools and the reluc- 
tance of many teachers to admit the wisdom of innovation were as 
remarkable as was the devotion of the reformers, who felt they had 
put on the cross for a holy crusade, The rights of property were 
said to be challenged when the state levied taxes to educate "other 
people's children," and the howls of the taxpayer were heard 
throughout the land. It was argued that parents had the right to 
provide for the education of their own children and that the privi- 
lege to pay for their attendance at private schools should not be 
curtailed by the necessity for paying again to the tax collector. 
Taxation for the benefit of others was called tyranny by those who 
had no children; public benefits were said to lessen "sturdy inde- 
pendence" and "individual initiative"; man, it was asserted, could 
receive full benefit only from that to which he had contributed. 
Those who supported parochial schools spoke darkly of double tax- 
ation, and religious denominations maintaining such schools sought 
a share of state aid. Immigrant groups protested that they preferred 
to send their children to schools where the language, religion, and 
traditions of their homelands might be taught, and they objected to 
a tax for public schools. Compulsory attendance, it was believed, 
robbed parents of full control over their children and deprived 
them of their right to the proceeds of the labor such children might 
perform. Pitiful word pictures were painted of ill and starving par- 


ents suffering at home while strapping boys of twelve or fourteen 
went merrily off to school. 

Protests came also from those who doubted the wisdom of uni- 
versal education. An appeal to the North Carolina legislature in 
1829 stated frankly: 

Gentlemen, I hope you do not conceive it at all necessary that everybody 
should be able to read, write, and cipher. If one is to keep a store or a 
school, or to be a lawyer or physician, such branches may, perhaps, be 
taught him; though I do not look upon them as by any means indispen- 
sable; but if he is to be a plain farmer, or a mechanic, they are of no 
manner of use, but rather a detriment. 18 

And the farmer himself objected to expensive innovation in no un- 
certain terms. In New York one rural district adopted resolutions 
stating that it was in favor of "a simple and plain system of popu- 
lar education, without normal schools, teachers' institutes, district 
school journals, supported by the State, or hordes of state officials." 
But conservatism was not the property of farmers alone. There 
were many in the teaching profession who frowned upon the re- 
form movement. A professor at Yale, about 1830, expressed his ob- 
jections in frank and not disinterested terms: 

We find no advantage in pursuing a different course of instruction from 
what has hitherto been practised. That has stood the test of experience. 
It was surely an outrage to alter it. The world talks about improvement 
in instruction . . . and about a thousand never-tested notions. They 
are good for nothing. I would not give a straw for all of them. . . . The 
money ought to be appropriated to better purposes to the support of 
colleges. What good can be done in common schools? Our dependence 
must rest upon colleges chiefly. Cannot some means be devised to get a 
part, or the whole, of the School Funds applied to the use of Colleges, 
and save it . . . instead of its being thrown away? 19 

Other teachers feared that the path of progress would be filled with 
stones or thorns and entered it with reluctance. A veteran instruc- 
tor of youth, Jacob Abbott, published The Teacher in 1833 to 
warn the profession against innovation. He approved the older 
methods of instruction, even the most condemned system of oral 
simultaneous rote-answers to set questions, and advocated strict dis- 
cipline and increased moral and religious instruction. In a chapter 
entitled "Scheming," he warned young teachers against new meth- 
ods, especially those that might be opposed by school boards or par- 


ents. Teachers should "confine themselves to their proper sphere"; 
the schoolroom was not the teacher's empire; he was hired by em- 
ployers to whom belonged the right to determine policy, and even 
"if they wish to have a course pursued which is manifestly inexpe- 
dient or wrong, they still have a right to decide." 20 

Seldom did any member of the opposition use the term "the 
rights of the child." The recognition of these rights came as a vic- 
tory of the humanitarian liberals, after a struggle that justified the 
statement of one of its historians: "The fight for free schools was 
one of the great landmarks of American democracy." 21 


In the years when the battle for reform was concentrated on 
elementary education, and when the public high school was no 
more than a reference, under the name of "seminary," in the con- 
stitutions or statutes of a few states, secondary education was car- 
ried on by the academies founded in countless towns with the 
bequests of civic-minded citizens and the contributions of parents 
and subscribers. There were one hundred and twelve academies in 
Massachusetts alone in 1840. In these schools most of the leaders of 
the Northern states in the early years of the century were prepared 
for college, and to them the states looked for models when the re- 
sponsibility of the state for secondary education was recognized. 
Many of them went out of existence when public high schools were 
established. Some were converted into public schools by the pur- 
chase of their physical plants by the towns in which they were 
located; others have survived into the twentieth century and are 
among the best of the private schools of today. Although these 
town academies were the peculiar institution of New England, the 
name was given also to Southern private schools, and in the prewar 
South such schools furnished practically the only means of acquir- 
ing secondary education and college preparatory work. 

Slowly these academies began to respond to the demand for re- 
form. Some of them opened their doors to girls and thus played a 
part in the movement for the education of women. This step was 
taken with some reluctance and with many safeguards. At Deer- 
field, in Massachusetts, for instance, girls and boys were taught in 
separate classes and had separate playgrounds and separate entrances 


to all buildings. Girls were not admitted to Phillips Academy at 
Andover, but a separate school, Abbot Academy, was opened for 
them in the same town in 1838. 

The need for secondary education for young people who could 
not attend college was recognized in the creation of special schools 
where the emphasis was upon instruction in English. In Boston, 
where the old Latin Grammar School had for two centuries fitted 
boys for college, an English Classical School was opened in i82i. 22 
At Andover an English School was established under the auspices 
of Phillips Academy for the dual purpose of training boys and girls 
in the use of the vernacular and of serving as a teacher training in- 

Willing as were those who controlled the academies and other 
private schools to enlarge their curriculums and modernize their 
methods of teaching, they were in general a conservative group that 
looked upon the free high schools with the suspicion accorded an 
intruder. There was a long process of attrition in which many 
of the Northern academies disappeared or were turned into state- 
supported free schools. In the South they survived, for even after 
the Civil War, when public schools were established, the tradition 
endured that a gentleman's son should be privately educated. 


There was in this period of social ferment a group of new 
schools some very short-lived that attempted to put into effect 
all that was most modern and progressive in educational theory and 
practice. Americans who had read Rousseau's Emile were ready to 
accept the educational theories of the famous Swiss pedagogue, 
Pestalozzi, who had established a school in his native land where 
Rousseau's ideas could be put into practice and modified in the light 
of actual experience with children. Pestalozzi believed that the de- 
velopment of man proceeded according to natural laws and that the 
teacher's function was to assist nature in achieving the harmonious 
development of all the faculties. Education should be moral and re- 
ligious, natural and not mechanical, and based upon the needs of the 
individual. Intuition and reasoning should be developed, and mere 
memory work should be discouraged. It was the work of the school 
to fit the child for his place in society. The Pestalozzian schools be- 


came the mecca for educators of all countries, and through travel- 
ers and men trained by the Swiss master Froebel, Fellenberg, Neef , 
and others his ideas were carried far afield. Pestalozzian schools 
were established in many lands, and Pestalozzian ideas were slowly 
worked into the methods and curriculums of public schools every- 

In America one of the earliest reflections of Pestalozzian teaching 
was in the school established by Joseph Neef and William Maclure 
at New Harmony, Indiana, in the regime of Robert Owen, who 
had himself used the ideas of the Swiss educator in his schools at 
New Lanark. The end of the New Harmony community termi- 
nated this experiment in education, but the work of adapting the 
new ideas to American conditions was carried on by others. In 
many ways the school at Brook Farm, which has already been dis- 
cussed in another connection, was the epitome of all that was ideal- 
istic and idyllic in American educational reform. 

Another charming experiment was the Temple School of Bron- 
son Alcott, the Transcendentalism Convinced of the importance of 
teaching and sure of his own love for children, Alcott early decided 
to devote himself to education. Traditional procedures seemed in- 
adequate to him, and he read everything that came his way in which 
educational problems were discussed: Robert Owen's New View 
of Society; William Russell's American Journal of Education; Jo- 
seph Neef 's Sketch of a Flan and Method in Education; and the 
Hints to Parents . . r in the Spirit of Pestalozzi. His brother Wil- 
liam knew a man who had visited Fellenberg's school in Hofwyl, 
and Alcott himself corresponded with William Maclure of New 
Harmony and with a Dr. Keagy who had opened a Pestalozzian 
school in Pennsylvania. By 1830 Alcott had determined that teach- 
ing the young was to be his work in life. 

In the district schools of Connecticut, where he did his first 
teaching, he endeavored to put his Pestalozzian theories into prac- 
tice, but he received little encouragement for his innovations. It was 
not until he went to Boston in 1834 that he found his intellectual 
and spiritual home. There the sort of idealism that was the core of 
his thinking found a hearing, and on Tremont Street in the Masonic 
Temple Alcott opened the school upon which his reputation as a 


teacher was to stand. To it were sent about forty children from 
many of Boston's most cultured and liberal families. 

At Alcott's own expense the big classroom of Temple School 
was charmingly furnished. There were carpets, pictures, busts, a 
bas-relief of Jesus, and a statue of a symbolic figure, Silence. Each 
child had his own chair, desk, and blackboard. Elizabeth Peabody, 
one of the ablest and best informed women of Boston, was Alcott's 
assistant in the school, and it is her Record of a School that pro- 
vides its history. There all Alcott's theories were applied. Children 
were taught as individuals, each making progress at his own rate of 
speed. Discipline, on the other hand, was considered a social matter, 
and problems of that kind were referred to the whole school for 
consideration. There was no corporal punishment; a quiet, harmoni- 
ous atmosphere and an interesting round of activities were usually 
effective in maintaining order. 

The curriculum of Temple School was much richer in content 
than that of the usual school of the day arid was designed to de- 
velop the "three-fold nature of childhood." The subjects taught 
were divided as follows: under "The Spiritual Faculty" were listed 
Listening to Sacred Readings, Conversations on the Gospels, Writ- 
ing Journals, Self -Analysis and Self -Discipline, Listening to Read- 
ings from Works of Genius, Motives to Study and Action, and 
Government of the School; under "The Imaginative Faculty" were 
Spelling and Reading, Writing and Sketching from Nature, Pic- 
turesque Geography, Writing Journals and Epistles, Illustrating 
Words, Listening to Readings, and Conversation; under "The Ra- 
tional Faculty" came Defining Words, Analyzing Speech, Self- 
Analysis, Arithmetic, Study of the Human Body, Reasonings on 
Conduct, and Discipline. 28 

From the obvious emphasis on self -analysis in that curriculum a 
modern parent or teacher might infer that Temple School produced 
a class of introspective, self-conscious little prigs. Alcott was a phi- 
losopher, not a psychologist, and his delight in contemplating the 
unfolding mind of the child may have led him to aid too much in 
the process. Indeed, Alcott's supporters were not unaware of the 
danger. Wise old Dr. Charming wrote him anxiously: 

light as to the degree to which the mind of the child should be 
turned inward. The free development of the spiritual nature may be im- 


peded by too much analysis of it. The soul is somewhat jealous of being 
watched and it is no small part of wisdom to know when to leave it to its 
impulses and when to restrain it. The strong passion of the young for the 
outward is an indication of Nature to be respected. Spirituality may be 
too exclusive for its own good. 24 

To this letter Alcott returned a characteristic reply: "This I have 
done reverently and in faith, not in doubt, nor with profane curi- 
osity" the inference being that, acting in good faith, a Transcen- 
dentalist could not act wrongly. 

In 1836, however, this Transcendentalist was inexpedient if not 
wrong, and he wrecked the school and his career as a teacher by 
too searching an examination of the ideas of the children in a series 
of Conversations on the Gospels. With the utmost humility and 
reverence and with as complete a lack of sbphistication as the chil- 
dren could have had, Alcott approached the Conversations, which 
were conducted on Socratic lines. "All truth is written," he ex- 
plained. "My business is to lead you to find it in your own Souls." 
In an era when mention of sex was unthinkable in cultivated so- 
ciety, Alcott began the Conversations with the mystery of the birth 
of Christ. Sex to him was holy and purely spiritual, transcendental 
and sublimated. Delicacy and vagueness permeated his every re- 
mark, but the damage was done. Irate parents entered complaints; 
Miss Peabody resigned in alarm for her own reputation; and the 
trusting philosopher decided to publish, at his own expense, the rec- 
ords of the Conversations, in order that the public might realize the 
purity of his motives and the sincerity of his religious faith. The 
publication was ill-advised, however, for it gave the controversy a 
wider hearing, and the book received very unfavorable comment 
from the shocked ministers and teachers who wrote reviews of it. 

Within six months the enrollment of Temple School dropped 
from forty to ten. The panic of 1837 added its deterring influ- 
ence, and in 1838 Alcott was forced to give up the rooms in the 
temple and transfer his three pupils to his own home. Soon, ill and 
discouraged, he gave up teaching altogether and left for England on 
a tour for which Emerson provided the funds. 

No one of Alcott's contemporaries set higher standards for teach- 
ing or for teachers. His dominant motive had been the loving guid- 
ance of children, from whom he hoped to learn of the human soul 


and its relation to God. The incredibly high level he wished teach- 
ers to attain demanded a pure heart, an unsophisticated conscience, 
elevated principles, an amiable temper, religious faith, and a devo- 
tion to work which would make of it a happiness rather than a 
duty. 25 

A school as progressive but of an entirely different character was 
established on Round Hill, Northampton, Massachusetts, in the au- 
tumn of 1823 by George Bancroft and Joseph Cogswell. Bancroft 
had recently returned from student years in Germany, where he 
had grown familiar with schools that seemed far in advance of those 
in the United States. In Joseph Cogswell he found an able associate 
who was both a scholar and an administrator and more devoted 
to the cause of education than was Bancroft himself. Round Hill 
School was designed to be a college preparatory school, taking boys 
from the age of nine to sixteen. Its prospectus stated that its disci- 
pline was to be "precautionary rather than punitive"; that English, 
mathematics, and modern languages were to be taught as well as the 
classics; and that gymnastics, games, and outdoor exercise were to 
be a regular part of the school life, which was to be simple, quiet, 
and wholesome. 

For a few years Round Hill prospered. Life there was anything 
but soft. The boys rose at six; prayers, study, breakfast, and exer- 
cises filled the time until nine, when the school day began. Classes 
ran from nine to twelve and from two to four; the hours between 
were devoted to dinner and exercise. From four to five there were 
organized sports, then supper, "declamation," study, "devotions," 
and bed at eight-thirty. 26 The program was undeniably pleasant 
and varied. There were sketching and riding lessons, long tramps 
through the woods and along the river, a country camping site 
called "crony village," an annual journey to some point of interest, 
and an innovation that may or may not have seemed pleasant to 
the boys foreign language tables in the dining room. 

The highest standards were maintained at Round Hill. Every 
boy was put upon his mettle, and every effort was made to develop 
in him a desire for what Cogswell called "absolute excellence." Dis- 
cipline seems to have been no great problem in that hive of constant 


We derive no aid [wrote Cogswell] from the fear of the lash. . . . Al- 
though we inflict no punishments . . . you must not think we allow a 
boy to suppose that there is no evil to result from disobedience, or idle- 
ness, or misconduct. We endeavor to ascertain what every one can do, 
and then we secure the performance of the task by cutting off all hopes 
of being allowed to play until it is performed. . . . The method of in- 
struction which we adopt furnishes as delicate a test for the presence of 
brains, as prussic acid does for that of iron. 27 

Each boy was taught individually and was advanced on his merits, 
a plan most unusual for that day and one putting great demands on 
his instructors. The teaching staff was excellent, including as mod- 
ern language teachers a German, a Frenchman, and an Italian. Su- 
pervised play in all sorts of weather added to the burden on the 
staff, and only really devoted teachers could long qualify, for, 
wrote Cogswell: "So satisfied am I that the capacity for improve- 
ment is the characteristic of man . . . that I am willing to risk the 
opinion that when none is made, the fault must lie as much in 
the teacher as in the one to be taught." 28 

Although the reputation of Round Hill was deservedly high and 
its standards were praised by all who visited the school, it was not 
destined to take a permanent place among American preparatory 
schools. Bancroft was not happy in teaching and withdrew after a 
few years to carry on his literary work. The staff was as high-priced 
as it was excellent, and the financial burden became too heavy for 
Cogswell to support. There was no endowment, and it was impos- 
sible to stretch the tuition fees of the forty or more students to 
cover the expenses of maintenance; so in 1834 Cogswell decided 
to close it, although it had been a great success in every way other 
than that of making both ends meet. The only conclusions to be 
drawn from its history are that excellence was expensive, and that 
private schools offering all that was provided at Round Hill re- 
quired either an endowment or a clientele that would pay fees 
higher than were then customary. 


Recognition of the duty of the community in respect to the edu- 
cation of women was slow in coming. In the colonial period there 
were a few private schools for "young ladies" in which attention 
was generally devoted to the more graceful handicrafts. The town 


academies established in the early nineteenth century were usually 
open to girls as well as to boys, and there girls obtained enough 
knowledge of elementary school subjects to offer themselves as 
teachers in the district schools, where they earned less than half the 
salaries paid their brothers for the same work. 

The pioneer in the field of higher education for women was 
Emma Hart Willard, who published her Plan for Improving Fe- 
male Education in 1819. Her restless mind was not content with 
the educational opportunities offered her, and she continued her 
own studies while she taught and after her marriage. Geometry, the 
principles of John Locke, and Paley's Moral Philosophy carried her 
on to subjects taught young men only after entrance to college. In 
1 8 14 she opened a school of her own in Philadelphia, where seventy 
girls were instructed in subjects new to women by teachers using 
the most modern methods. 

Mrs. Willard felt that the state should aid in establishing schools 
for women, but when she failed to secure state funds for her 
school, she accepted the invitation of a group of citizens of Troy, 
New York, to open a school for which they would erect an ade- 
quate building. Troy Female Seminary was opened in" 1 82 1 and was 
an immediate success. To the surprise of those who doubted the 
mental capacity of girls, the ninety students at the Troy Seminary 
seemed quite able to assimilate the doses of mathematics, history, 
geography, and physics administered to them. Mrs. Willard be- 
lieved that school life should approximate that of the community, 
so the seminary had a student self-government association. Teacher 
training was her great objective, and in the decade before the first 
normal schools, she prepared two hundred girls for the teaching 
profession. So devoted was she to the cause that during the seven- 
teen years of her principalship she loaned nearly seventy-five thou- 
sand dollars to girls who were earning their own way through school. 

Another pioneer was Catherine Beecher, eldest daughter of Ly- 
man Beecher, who opened a little school in Hartford, Connecticut, 
about the time that Mrs. Willard was building Troy Seminary. 
When her family moved to Cincinnati, Catherine opened a girls' 
school there which was a failure because of lack of funds, although 
it was overcrowded with eager students. Miss Beecher was another 
devotee of courses for the training of teachers especially of what 


she called "missionary teachers" for the schools of the South and 
the West. 20 She was anxious, also, to provide preparation for young 
women in their careers as wives and mothers. Physical training and 
domestic science seemed more important to her than courses dupli- 
cating the work given the young men of the day. She wrote books 
on domestic science and even a recipe book in behalf of the cause 
the profits from which went into her work. 

Miss Beecher's life was that of a propagandist, one of constant 
travel, lectures, organization, and writing. Aided by the clergy, by 
mothers, and by schoolteachers, she endeavored to break down re- 
sistance to her ideas and to obtain money for her projects. Her 
pamphlet American Women, Will You Save Your Country? and 
the more important Essay on the Education of the Female Teacher 
were regarded as classics in their fields. Her belief that woman's 
place was in the home was expressed in the prospectus of Milwau- 
kee College for Women, founded as a result of her efforts "to train 
women to be healthful, intelligent, and successful wives, mothers, 
and housekeepers." 

Perhaps the best known of this group of women educators was 
Mary Lyon, the founder of Mount Holyoke College. Like Emma 
Willard she was educated in an academy near her Massachusetts 
home. As a young district schoolteacher she earned one dollar a 
week and "boarded around," but curiosity and ambition drove her 
to continual study, and she early conceived the idea that later came 
to life in South Hadley. It was her desire to found a school of col- 
lege rank and standards for the training of teachers and missionaries, 
one that should be attended by those in the "middle walks of life." 
For several years she taught with Zilpha Grant in New Ipswich 
Academy, and there she began her campaign for funds for a girls' 
college, obtaining her first thousand dollars from the housewives of 
the town in a house-to-house canvass. She was an inveterate beg- 
gar; the twenty-seven thousand dollars that went into the building 
of Mount Holyoke came from eighteen hundred people in ninety 
towns. Befriended by Professor Edward Hitchcock and Professor 
William Seymour Tyler of Amherst College, she decided to found 
her school in the near-by village of South Hadley, and there in 1 837 
the new seminary was opened with one hundred and sixteen stu- 
dents and four teachers. 


The entrance requirements and, aside from the fact that at first 
no foreign languages were taught, the instruction were on the same 
level as those of the men's colleges. As the school grew and more 
teachers were added, the curriculum was expanded, but it was not 
until 1888, almost forty years after the death of Miss Lyon, that 
Mount Holyoke was granted a charter as a full-fledged college for 

At some time before the founding of the school, Miss Lyon vis- 
ited a manual labor institution in New York state, where she picked 
up, if she had not already acquired it, the idea that the girls in her 
school should aid in the housework of the establishment. With the 
lack of household conveniences in that day, this requirement meant 
a Spartan life for the "young ladies" during the New England win- 
ters. One of them wrote that on Thanksgiving day "we all had the 
privilege of sleeping as long as we wished in the morning, provided 
we were ready for breakfast by 8 o'clock. I rose at five, an hour 
later than usual and worked two hours and a half before break- 
fast." 80 

Miss Lyon was pious as well as energetic, and the atmosphere of 
Mount Holyoke was quite as revivalist as that of the neighboring 
institution in Amherst. The constant round of prayers and fast days 
was accepted without protest by most of the docile maidens but 
found a rebel in the young Emily Dickinson, who attended the 
school in Miss Lyon's later years. When the announcement was 
made that Christmas Day would be observed as a day of fasting and 
meditation, each girl remaining secluded in her own room all day, 
Emily alone refused to rise in approval and she took the next stage 
for Amherst to celebrate Christmas with her family. In dealing with 
the individualistic Emily, Miss Lyon found use, apparently, for her 
own favorite maxim: "It is one of the nicest of mental operations to 
distinguish between what is very difficult and what is utterly im- 
possible." 81 

These were the pioneers in the field of education for women. 
Other schools of the day were less progressive and followed the 
older pattern of teaching the "principles of Morality, Humility, and 
the Love of Virtue" by a smattering of religious teaching and a 
modicum of needlework and other feminine graces. When even 
Emma Willard and Catherine Beecher taught that women should 


be educated to take a woman's place in life, it was little wonder 
that there was slow progress toward equal educational opportunities 
for women. The only professions outside the home that were open 
to them were those of teacher or missionary, and for the latter it 
was better that they be married. .The few eccentric women who 
tried to obtain medical or theological training were socially ostra- 
cized, and even Catherine Beecher found it wise to ask men to 
lecture in her cause while she worked outside the public eye. It 
is probable that most public-spirited American citizens of that day 
would have been content to subscribe to the views of the well- 
known teacher, Alonzo Potter, who recorded in his School and the 
School Master in 1842 that the education of a girl was designed to fit 
her for the work of a Christian matron, and 

. . . to fit her for such a noble ministry she needs a training quite differ- 
ent from that given to the other sex. Her delicacy and purity must re- 
main untarnished. Her diffidence and even bashfulness, at once a grace 
and a protection should be cherished as a peculiar treasure. She is to have 
all accomplishments which lend a charm to her person and manners; 
but these must be held as insignificant, when compared with those which 
qualify her for the duties of a wife and mother, and which inspire a 
taste for the privacy of domestic life, for its pleasures and privileges. 
. . . But she cannot too studiously shun the gaze of the multitude. The 
strife and tumults of the senate-house and the platform are too much 
even for her eye to rest upon, much more for her voice to mingle in. 
Her chastity is her tower of strength, her modesty and gentleness are 
her charm, and her ability to meet the high claims of her family and de- 
pendents, the noblest power 'she can exhibit to the admiration of the 
world. 82 


There was a corresponding development, if not so dramatic a 
one, in the American college in the same period. The changes may 
be illustrated from the stories of a few colleges and universities that 
seem to be typical. 

In 1817 boys entered Harvard at twelve to fifteen years, pre- 
pared Only in the classics and in them but poorly. The curriculum 
was narrow and the standards of scholarship low. College clubs 
were mostly drinking bouts, and college holidays might easily turn 
into brawls. 88 But in the 1820'$ and 1830'$, when a group of young 
men who had studied abroad joined the Harvard faculty, modern 
languages, literature, history, political science and economy, and 


the sciences were added to the program, and the whole of college 
life was altered. The improvement of preparatory schools permitted 
the stepping up of entrance age and requirements so that the college 
began to assume the appearance of an institution of higher learning. 

The change came slowly, however; even when Emerson made 
his famous Phi Beta Kappa address, Harvard was just a small col- 
lege of about three hundred students in a sleepy little town of less 
than ten thousand population. Commencement was a state holiday 
with booths, fairs, horse races, and other attractions at which stu- 
dents and alumni disported themselves with gaiety. The students 
were rough and ready and rebellious. Young John Marsh, who 
graduated from Harvard in 1823, was involved in the turbulent ac- 
tivities of his class to such an extent that he was suspended twice 
and came near ending his college career in disgrace. In his junior 
year he participated in a riot during which a number of valuable 
books and papers were filched from the college library and burned 
in front of University Hall. One protesting professor had a bucket 
of ink emptied on his head, and another was almost killed by a fall- 
ing cannon ball. The windows of the president's house were broken 
and other damage was done to college property. 84 

Sobriety was more prevalent in New Haven, for Yale was a cen- 
ter for Congregational orthodoxy and, after the beginning of the 
religious revivals at the turn of the century, was sought out by those 
who intended to become ministers or missionaries. Innovations in 
curriculum and methods came even more slowly at Yale than at 
Harvard, since orthodoxy in religion was accompanied by conserv- 
atism in educational lines. It was from Yale, however, that many 
students went west in the 1820*8 and 1830*8 to play a great part in 
the establishment of educational institutions on the frontier. And it 
was to Yale and Princeton that students went from the schools of 
the South for advanced study. 

Dartmouth College, founded in colonial days, was still almost a 
frontier school in the early nineteenth century. The Autobiography 
of Amos Kendall, by a man who entered Dartmouth in 1807, re- 
cords "student customs" that showed little piety but much disor- 
derliness. Boys who boarded themselves took pride in robbing the 
hen roosts of the village and obtained their fuel from the wood 
piles of their neighbors. Literary society meetings often ended in 


drunken riots that shattered the stillness of the winter nights. It is 
difficult to be quite sure whether the annual revivals of Amherst or 
the wild pranks of the boys of Hanover and Cambridge were more 
characteristic of American college life in that period. 

In the first half of the nineteenth century many new colleges 
were founded, especially in the West and the South, and most of 
them were in the beginning missionary enterprises and extremely 
religious, if not always denominational. Probably the most famous 
of the Presbyterian schools of the South was Transylvania College, 
founded in 1780, in the region later to be called Kentucky, by an 
act of the Virginia legislature, which set aside eight thousand acres 
of land for the college. A few years later the grant was increased to 
twenty thousand acres, all college property was declared exempt 
from taxation, and both students and faculty were freed from the 
obligation of military service. It was carefully decreed by the Epis- 
copalian or f reethinking legislators that there should be no religious 
tests and no special privilege for any sect, but the Presbyterian 
domination of the frontier is evident in the fact that the board of 
trustees was consistently of that faith until 1818. 

During those years Transylvania was little more than a small 
grammar school or academy. The citizens of Lexington came to 
feel that the conservative trustees were blocking the growth of both 
town and college. Political liberals were in control of the legislature 
after 1816, however, and a plan was devised to liberalize and popu- 
larize the college. Victorious in securing a new board of trustees 
free from Calvinistic domination, the liberals 'installed Horace Hoi- 
ley, a well-known Unitarian, as president. His regime was notable 
for new texts, extended curriculum, and increased enrollment. A 
law department and a medical school were founded, the faculty 
was enlarged, and the creation of a real state university seemed im- 
minent. But the Presbyterians kept up the fight, determined to 
wreck Holley and his "ungodly" administration even if at the same 
time they wrecked the college. After a weary decade Holley gave 
up the straggle and resigned in 1827. During the next fifteen years 
four Presbyterian ministers were successively president of Transyl- 
vania, and the institution steadily declined. Niels Sonne, the author 
of a recent monograph, Liberal Kentucky, 1780-1828, concludes a 
discussion of Transylvania with the statement: 


The ideal of a great central state university open to all religious de- 
nominations, and conducted on liberal principles, had been effectively 
quashed. With it went the possibility of the domination of liberal reli- 
gious opinion in the state. Collegiate education now became the function 
of the small denominational college. 85 

This victory of denominationalism was equally apparent in other 
Southern states and was, perhaps, inevitable in view of the intense 
emotional revivalism of the Protestant churches of the region. The 
Methodists established Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and La 
Grange College in Alabama in 1829. In Georgia there was an early 
Baptist college, and the state university was strongly Presbyterian. In 
1837 the Methodists entered the field with Emory College, which 
was to be not only sectarian but at the same time a manual labor 
school. Under the guidance of Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, better 
known today as the author of charming tales of the South than as 
minister or educator, the new institution was almost immediately suc- 
cessful, and it soon rivaled the University of Georgia as an educa- 
tional center. 

North of the Ohio, too, most of the colleges were affiliated with 
some religious body, usually the Congregational or, more often, the 
Presbyterian church. There the founding of a college was often an 
experiment in town planting as well, for hardy pioneers built homes 
and colleges in the wilderness with the same economic enterprise and 
religious zeal that had marked the establishment of Puritan towns 
in the colonial era. These small sectarian colleges of the West and 
the South were the very essence of American civilization, for in 
their founding was combined the westward movement, the reli- 
gious diversity and passionate faith of American individualism and 
Protestantism, and a devotion to the ideal that every aspiring youth 
should find available the means of acquiring whatever measure of 
education he desired. 

The name of these colleges was legion. Many of them were, in 
fact, no more than mere academies and some were very short-lived, 
but an astonishing number survived into the twentieth century, liv- 
ing symbols of the frontier's religiosity and its tolerance of diver- 
sity. Two of the most interesting and influential were linked from 
the time of their founding in the i83o's, and for more than a hun- 
dred years there have been marked parallels in their history. Ober- 


tin College in Ohio and Knox College in Illinois were both colonies 
as well as colleges, for their founders were groups of settlers care- 
fully picked by pious leaders to establish both a town and a college 
on the frontier. They were alike, too, in that almost every influ- 
ence of their early years came from New England or from a section 
of New York that had been settled from New England. Both col- 
leges had some connection with the family of Lyman Beecher, and 
with that stormy evangelist, Charles Grandison Finney; both were 
deeply involved in the slavery controversy and were stations of 
the Underground Railroad; both were pioneers in the education of 
women; and both were founded upon the principle of student self- 
help through manual labor. 

The idea of the state university was older than the Union itself, 
but its rapid growth and great importance were not to come until 
after the Civil War. Provision was made for a state university in the 
first constitution of Pennsylvania, and North Carolina and Ver- 
mont each passed a law creating one, on paper, during the Revolu- 
tion. The University of Georgia was founded in 1785, that of 
Tennessee in 1794, while the University of Virginia was the last 
great enterprise of Thomas Jefferson. New England (except for 
Vermont), already provided with old and respected colleges, was 
little interested in the movement; it was in the West that it was to 
find its most congenial setting, and there the new states were more 
than generous with grants of land and encouragement of every sort. 

In 182 1 the infant Territory of Michigan envisaged the establish- 
ment of a complete educational system like the Napoleonic Univer- 
sity of France, to be called "The Catholepistemiad of Michigania," 
apparently in agreement with Huxley that "no system of public 
education is worth the name of national unless it creates a great 
educational ladder, with one end in the gutter and the other in the 
university." It was not until 1835, however, that the present Uni- 
versity of Michigan was founded. Its first president was Henry 
Tappan, and its first catalogue contained a statement that might 
well be the credo of those building institutions of higher education 
in a democratic state: N 

An institution cannot deserve the name of a university which does not 
aim in all the material of learning, in the professorships it establishes, and 
in the whole scope of its provisions, to make it possible for every student 


to study what he pleases and to any extent he pleases. Nor can it be 
regarded as consistent with the spirit of a free country to deny to its citi- 
zens the possibilities of the highest knowledge. 86 


In the years before the establishment of the public school system 
pious Americans endeavored to instill religion and dispel illiteracy 
through Sunday schools. The earliest such school to achieve success 
was founded in Philadelphia in 1790 and was conducted under the 
patronage of Bishop White, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Mathew Carey 
the economist, and other prominent citizens. Reading, writing, and 
arithmetic were taught by paid teachers to such children of the poor 
as desired admission. The number of these schools grew rapidly, 
and textbooks and catechisms were printed especially for them 
books which were, if possible, still more pious than those used in 
contemporary public schools. In 1824 the American Sunday School 
Union, a nondenominational society, was formed with the dual 
purpose of extending the work of such schools and of publishing 
books for Sunday school libraries. In the work of this society many 
theological students found vacation work. Between 1824 and 1850 
more than eight hundred volumes were published manuals, biog- 
raphies, texts, maps, and the like. In 1855 the receipts from book 
sales were nearly two hundred thousand dollars. 

These Sunday schools often used the Bell-Lancaster system of 
student teaching, which was used also in the free schools for poor 
children in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states. 
Lancastrian methods were quite simple, although there were a great 
many variations on the main theme; basically they meant the train- 
ing of a small group of older children, or monitors, who were then 
entrusted with passing on the skills they had acquired to groups of 
younger children. One paid teacher could thus "educate" a very 
large number through the lips of the parrot monitors. The teaching 
was made as simple and mechanical as possible, with a great deal of 
group recitation and oral repetition of information imparted by the 
monitor. The system was fairly effective for cultivating basic skills 
in the three R's, and it certainly was a cheap method of reducing 
illiteracy. It flourished between 1800 and 1830, but fell into dis- 
repute under the hearty condemnation of such educators as Horace 
Mann and Henry Barnard when the era of real reform began. 


The disapproval of American workers was fully as emphatic, and 
it was as much their objection to class distinction as it was the edu- 
cators' censure of techniques that eventually caused the rejection of 
the Lancastrian system. The assertion of American democratic ideals 
is implicit in every sentence of this statement by Walter R. Johnson 
of Pennsylvania in 1825: 

Only allow the rich (no matter under what pretext, whether of phil- 
anthropy, or patriotism, or interest) to prescribe the education of the 
poor, and they prescribe their condition and relative importance. If any- 
thing be anti-republican, it certainly is so, directly or indirectly, to 
maintain that, although a hundred dollars a year is not too much to ex- 
pend for the mental improvement of the son of a wealthy merchant, 
lawyer and physician, a two dollar education is quite sufficient for the 
children of the poor, or in other words, the mass of our fellow citizens. 87 

The libraries established by the Sunday schools were a perma- 
nent institution of much value and the forerunner of the school and 
public libraries of a much later date. One of the first recommenda- 
tions of educational reformers was the creation of a library system 
for public schools, or at least the purchase of books in each district 
for use in the schools. Subscription libraries dated back to colonial 
days. Benjamin Franklin's Philadelphia Junto had bought books for 
a little circulating library of their own in the mid-eighteenth cen- 
tury. The Boston Athenaeum was incorporated in 1807 and was 
maintained by private subscription, as was the much later Boston 
Public Library (1852). There were similar institutions in other 
large cities, and even in quite small towns subscribers could be 
found for library societies. 

The Harvard College library of twenty thousand volumes led 
the list of college libraries, and every little academy had a store of 
books. One other variety of semipublic library must have been 
peculiar to the New England of the i83o's. Occasionally in trav- 
elers 5 accounts and in diaries appears a reference to the "factory 
library." Whether this was maintained by a benevolent proprietor 
or by the subscriptions of workers, it is difficult to ascertain. In the 
diary of one New England maiden, not herself a factory worker, 
there is frequent mention of stopping at the factory in the village 
"to change my book." Similar small libraries were sometimes pro- 
vided by workingmen's associations, and in the rural districts farm- 


ers' library societies organized by subscription seem to have been 
common. Some of their collections of books are still in existence 
and show a wide variety of tides. 

In 1859 Rhee's Manual of Public Libraries listed over fifty thou- 
sand libraries in the United States thirty thousand in Sunday 
schools, eighteen thousand in other schools, and nearly three thou- 
sand in cities and towns with .an estimated aggregate of nearly 
thirteen million volumes. The period of the endowed library began 
just shortly before the Civil War, too late to have had much effect 
on Rhee's list. John Jacob Astor left a large sum of money to estab- 
lish a library in New York City, and under the guidance of Joseph 
Cogswell the funds were expended for a great reference collection 
that was later incorporated in the New York Public Library. The 
philanthropist and antislavery leader, Gerrit Smith, provided funds 
for the Oswego library in 1853, and Seth Grosvenor founded the 
Buffalo library in 1857. Thus die library slowly came into its own 
as an agent in the education of the great American public. 

The movement for agricultural and mechanical education also 
began in this period, although little was accomplished before the 
Civil War. The state of New York, in 1819, appropriated twenty 
thousand dollars for a two-year program for the promotion of agri- 
culture and manufacture. The fund was to be distributed among 
the counties for the use of agricultural societies and for the "diffu- 
sion of correct agricultural information." At about the same time 
an agricultural school was opened in Maine, and throughout the 
period many persons advocated the idea of instruction in agricul- 
ture in the district schools. 

In 1822 the New York legislature passed an act incorporating the 
Mechanic and Scientific Institute, the purpose of which was the "in- 
stituting and maintaining of scientific and practical lectures appli- 
cable to the arts, and for collecting and forming a repository of 
machinery, tools, and generally for enlarging the knowledge and 
improving the condition of mechanics, artisans and manufacturers." 
A few years later the Rensseker School of Troy, New York, was 
incorporated to teach scientific methods of agriculture as well as 
various branches of what we would today call vocational training. 
Through these and similar schools a beginning was made in the de- 
velopment of technical training. 


With its goal "the advancement of education especially in com- 
mon schools and the general diffusion of knowledge," the Ameri- 
can Lyceum was organized in 1826. The chief complaint of those 
who were seeking educational reform was the indifference and 
apathy of the public. The lyceum movement was designed to do 
away with that lack of interest by stimulating discussion of sub- 
jects relating to education, and by teaching the average man to de- 
sire and to demand the privileges for his children that had long been 
advocated by philanthropists and reformers. In short, the American 
Lyceum was an instrument of public education and of propaganda. 88 

The object of the lyceum seems to have been the promotion of 
education in every way for every person; it was a sort of universal 
self-and-community-improvement association. As announced in 
1829 the purposes were to improve the mind, and social intercourse, 
by the study of worthwhile subjects, to use old library facilities and 
create new ones, to encourage and assist academies, to raise the 
character of public schools, to compile materials for local history, 
and to make agricultural and geological surveys. Town lyceums 
were to be formed wherever the public could be made to desire 
them, they were to send representatives to county and state lyce- 
ums, and a national organization was to coordinate and direct the 
whole program. 

Always strongest in New England, the movement spread into 
more than half the states of the Union and \yas carried by the lec- 
ture tours of its zealous founder, Josiah Holbrook, as far south as 
Georgia. The scope of the movement is suggested, perhaps, by the 
figures for its peak in the state where it was most popular: in 1839 
there were one hundred and thirty-seven local lyceums in Massa- 
chusetts with a total average attendance of nearly thirty-three thou- 
sand. The life of the national lyceum was short, perhaps because 
education was recognized to be, in large part, a matter of local 
and state interest, but the local lyceums lived on for many years and 
played a great part in public education. The meetings served as fo- 
rums on such practical questions as school textbooks, circulating li- 
braries, taxes for educational purposes, and the creation of local and 
state boards of education. 

The success of the lyceum in stimulating public interest in a va- 
riety of subjects was recorded in the comments of travelers. A 


member of the British Parliament visiting the United States in 1838 
reported his surprise at the diffusion of knowledge in the United 

Thousands of children, of not more than eight or ten years old, know 
more of geology, mineralogy, botany, statistical facts, etc. in fine, of 
what concerns their daily and national interests and occupations than 
was probably known thirty years ago by any five individuals in the 
United States. 89 

But it is to those who attended the weekly lyceum meetings that 
one must go for homely evidence of the educational effect of these 
local forums. A New Hampshire girl of eighteen described in her 
diary the meetings she attended through the winter of 1829-30. In 
February there were talks on anatomy delivered by the local Uni- 
tarian minister. In March a visiting scientist gave a series of lectures 
on chemical subjects, beginning with the "general properties of 
matter, with an illustration of the difference between attraction and 
chemical affinity," and going on through "Light, Heat and Elec- 
tricity" to a grand climax, in a "hall crowded with spectators," of 
experiments on the combustion of phosphorus and hydrogen gas. 
And "the last and most interesting experiment was breathing the 
exhilarating gas, it affected some much more than others, the sensa- 
tions appeared to be very pleasing generally except in one instance 
a man was so violent as to endanger his life." 40 

Libraries and lyceums thus contributed to the continual process 
of self -education to which Americans with active minds devoted so 
much time and energy in this period. Their ancestors had been 
sermon-tasters, accustomed to the long dissertations and disputa- 
tions of Protestant theologians; now through these village forums 
they became lecture addicts and listened with unparalleled patience 
for the next forty years to the lectures of itinerant scholars, who, be- 
ginning their careers in the service of the American Lyceum, con- 
tinued to make annual lecture tours long after the lyceum was no 
more. Emerson and Thoreau, Holmes and Lowell, Agassiz, Beecher, 
Wendell Phillips, and Horace Greeley were veterans of the lyceum 
platforms who might with justice be called perennial and peripa- 
tetic schoolmasters of America. 

In every New England hamlet and far away on the Illinois prairie 
earnest seekers after knowledge taught themselves, spending their 


long winter evenings reading weighty tomes on history, philosophy, 
and science. The same New England girl who attended the 
lyceum so regularly devoted the intervals between when house- 
hold duties did not prevent to a carefully planned course of read- 
ing. In one winter she read European history, physiology, Paley's 
Moral Philosophy, a treatise on American trees, and the newest 
novel by Scott, imported from England. It was a sad night when 
she had to say in her diary, "I have read nothing today, a wasted 
day." And many years later she wrote to her sons, who were pio- 
neering in Minnesota, that she was sending them a box containing 
their winter underwear, some warm mittens, and the back numbers 
of the Living Age and the Atlantic Monthly; they might as well 
"improve your minds when the farm work is slack." Where but in 
pre-Civil War America could one find such devotion to education? 
Where and in what other period have so many followed so literally 
the advice of Noah Webster: 

In selecting books for reading, be careful to choose such as furnish 
the best helps to improvement in morals, literature, arts and sciences, pre- 
ferring profit to pleasure, and instruction to amusement. A small portion 
of time may be devoted to such reading as tends to relax the mind, and to 
such bodily amusements as serve to invigorate muscular strength and 
the vital functions. But the greatest part of life is .to be employed in 
useful labors, and in various indispensable duties, private, social, and pub- 
lic. Man has but little time to spare for the gratification of the senses and 
the imagination. . . . Let it then be the first study of your early years to 
learn in what consists real 'worth or dignity of character.^ 


Reform far the Criminal 

With the revolutions that marked the end of the eighteenth century 
the old manner of treating the delinquent and the defective was 
rejected as an anachronism in a world that had recognized the im- 
portance of the individual. Beccaria's Crime and Punishment had 
been as widely read as Rousseau's Emile, and Montesquieu was 
known for his doctrines on the reform of criminal law and proce- 
dure as well as for his theories of government. It was early recog- 
nized that there was a fundamental incompatibility between the 
social forces of the American Revolution and the criminal codes of 
the colonial era. If the equality proclaimed in the Declaration of In- 
dependence meant anything at all, it meant equality before the law. 
If American statesmen were to give more than lip service to the 
humane and optimistic idea of man's improvability, they must re- 
move the barbarism and vindictiveness from their penal codes and 
admit that one great objective of punishment for crime must be the 
reformation of the criminal. 

Already men were groping toward the conception that man is in 
part the product of his environment and that society itself is respon- 
sible for many nonsocial actions. Science was soon to suggest that 
heredity, health, and other physical and psychological factors might 
play their part in delinquency and deficiency, making the criminal 
the victim as well as the villain in the social drama that ended in the 
prisoner's dock, and marking the defective as the unfortunate result 
of conditions for which he could not be held responsible. "An eye 
for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" seemed a barbaric principle of 
social revenge, and the righteous desire of the Puritan to cut off the 
wicked from the face of the earth gave way to a gender doctrine 
of regeneration. 

The change was not peculiar to the United States but was a part 
of the worldwide humanitarianism of the period. As in other tines 
of social progress, reform crossed national boundaries, and any 
list of those interested in the improvement of institutions for crimi- 
nals or defectives must be international in scope. But the part played 
by the United States was far from ignoble. Indeed, so marked was 



the American advance in the treatment of society's unfortunates 
that European travelers made special efforts to visit American pris- 
ons and asylums, and European governments commissioned agents 
to study and report upon American progress. 

Always these visitors sought to note such features of American 
plans as might with profit be copied in their own lands. In their 
turn, American humanitarians traveling abroad made contact with 
the managers of European institutions and brought home ideas for 
further changes in the American system. These humanitarians gave 
of their time and money to societies organized to work for reform, 
wrote letters and reports, and left for posterity the record of the 
movement that had been of such importance to them. 

The European visitors differed in their ideas as to why American 
progress was more marked than that of Europe. Harriet Martineau 
found the cause for American progress in the democratic faith: 

The fundamental democratic principles on which American Society is 
organized, are those "principles of justice and mercy" by which the 
guilty, the ignorant, the needy, and the infirm, are saved and blessed. 
The charity of a democratic society is heart-reviving to witness; for 
there is a security that no wholesale oppression is bearing down the mil- 
lion in one direction, while charity is lifting up the hundred in another. 
Generally speaking, the misery that is seen is all that exists: there is no 
paralysing sense of the hopelessness of setting up individual benevolence 
against social injustice. If the community has not yet arrived at the point 
at which all communities are destined to arrive, or perceiving guilt to be 
infirmity, of 'obviating punishment, ignorance, and want, still the Ameri- 
cans are more blessed than others, in the certainty that they have far less 
superinduced misery than society abroad, and are using wiser methods 
than others for its alleviation. 1 

Other visitors found the explanation in the profound interest of the 
American people in matters of religion. De Tocqueville called at- 
tention to the fact that prison reform in America stemmed from 
religious concern for the reformation of the criminal and the salva- 
tion of his soul. Again and again he discussed prison reform with 
members of the clergy and noted the fact that the heads of many 
of the best penal institutions, reform schools, and asylums were 
ex-ministers of Protestant faiths. But this Unking of humanitarianism 
with religion which was so peculiarly American received its best 
description, perhaps, in the words of Francis Grand: 


Religion has been the basis of the most important American settlements; 
religion kept their little community together religion assisted them in 
their revolutionary struggle; it was religion to which they appealed in 
defending their rights, and it was religion, in fine, which taught them 
to prize their liberties. It is with the solemnities of religion that the dec- 
laration of independence is yet annually read to the people from the 
pulpit, or that Americans celebrate the anniversaries of the most impor- 
tant events in their history. It is to religion they have recourse whenever 
they wish to impress the popular feeling with anything relative to their 
own country; and it is religion which assists them in all their national un- 
dertakings. The Americans look upon religion as a promoter of civil and 
political liberty; and have, therefore, transferred to it a large portion of 
the affection which they cherish for the institutions of their country. 
. . . Religion presides over their councils, aids in the execution of the 
laws, and adds to the dignity of the judges. Whatever is calculated to 
diminish its influence and practice, has a tendency to weaken the gov- 
ernment, and is, consequently, opposed to the peace and welfare of the 
United States. 2 

Americans themselves were quite willing to attribute to Chris- 
tianity the origin of the movement for the relief of the distressed 
and the reformation of the perverse. The preamble to the constitu- 
tion of the Philadelphia society formed in 1787 for "Alleviating the 
Miseries of Public Prisons" began with the biblical text, "I was in 
prison and ye came unto me," and continued with the announce- 
ment: ^ 

When we consider that the obligations of benevolence, which are 
founded on the precepts and example of the Author of Christianity, are 
not canceled by the follies or crimes of our fellow creatures; and when 
we reflect upon the miseries which penury, hunger, cold, unnecessary 
severity, unwholesome apartments, and guilt . . . involve upon them: 
it becomes us to extend our compassion to that part of mankind, who are 
subjects of these miseries. By the aid of humanity, their undue and illegal 
sufferings may be prevented . . . and such degrees and modes of punish- 
ment may be discovered and suggested, as may, instead of continuing 
habits of vice, become the means of restoring our fellow creatures to 
virtue and happiness. 8 

About forty years later the continuation of this religious zeal was 
evident in the work of Louis Dwight, the secretary and guiding 
spirit of the Boston Prison Discipline Society, whose interest in 
prison reform had been roused to white heat by his experiences as a 
traveling agent of the American Bible Society commissioned to 


carry Bibles to the inmates of prisons throughout the United States. 
For thirty years Dwight devoted himself to the improvement of 
prison conditions, because he was convinced that 

There is but one sufficient excuse for Christians in suffering such evils 
to exist in prisons in this country, and that is, that they are not acquainted 
with the real state of things. . . . When I bring before the Church of 
Christ a statement of what my eyes have seen, there will be a united and 
powerful effort to alleviate the miseries of prisons. 4 

Thus the work begun in the Age of Reason became a crusade in the 
years when democracy and religion combined to speed the progress 
of social reform. 


Criminal law in the American colonies was similar to that of the 
countries from which the colonists had come. Punishment was al- 
most exclusively corporal the death penalty for serious crimes and 
some form of publicly inflicted pain or humiliation for minor of- 
fenses. Whipping, mutilation, confinement in stocks, "ducking," 
and branding were the lesser punishments usually provided in the 
sentences of colonial courts. Puritanism and Quaker asceticism alike 
condemned every form of sensuality, and blasphemy and impiety 
were regarded as crimes against the state. Gambling, drunkenness, 
dueling, lying, breaking the peace, and conspicuous idleness were 
considered offenses meriting severe punishment, and the "common 
scold" was publicly ducked in an attempt to rid the community of 
the nuisance of her virulence. Local codes meticulously prescribed 
the number of lashes or the number of hours in the stocks to be 
imposed for some minor offenses and for others fixed the spot on the 
offender's body where a designated letter should be burned. 

But in a period when there were more than two hundred capital 
offenses under English law, colonial codes were thought to be ex- 
tremely mild. In Pennsylvania in the days of the mild Quaker code 
murder was the only offense punishable by death. The adoption of 
the English criminal code in 1718 added a dozen others to the list, 
however, and when the colonial period ended there were twenty 
capital crimes in Pennsylvania, and the death penalty might be im- 
posed for a second offense in the case of various others. The famous 
Connecticut Blue Laws provided the death penalty for fourteen 
crimes, the Duke of York's code for New York listed twelve capital 


offenses, and Virginia's colonial code, later copied by Kentucky, 
made provision for twenty-seven. As late as 1789 death was the 
legal penalty for ten crimes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and 
Connecticut. Obviously there was little need for prisons in colonial 
America; the "common gaol" for temporary detention was all that 
was necessary. 

Slowly the barbarism of these early codes disappeared. Pennsyl- 
vania led the way with the provisions of the constitution of 1776 
and the acts of succeeding legislatures. Murder became again the 
only crime punishable by death, and imprisonment at hard labor 
was substituted for the cruel forms of corporal punishment al- 
though as late as 1817 a sailor was bound to the iron rings outside 
the wall of the Walnut Street jail in Philadelphia and was publicly 
flogged. In the same period other states rewrote their criminal codes 

DO 1 i 

and began the slow process of putting into effect their constitu- 
tional provisions banning "cruel and unusual" punishments. There 
was no abrupt transition, nor was the procedure of the various states 
uniform or simultaneous. In Salem, Massachusetts, in 1801 a forger 
was made to stand in the pillory for an hour and had his ears 
cropped, and in Boston two years later two criminals were publicly 
pilloried before being imprisoned for a year. As late as 1822 a felon 
was publicly flogged on the Yale campus in view of the college 

The fate .of the "common scold" long remained precarious; ap- 
parently imprisonment did not seem an effective remedy. The Phil- 
adelphia court of sessions of 1824 sentenced one such neighborhood 
pest to be ducked, but the sentence was declared obsolete and was 
not enforced. Georgia scolds were not thus rescued, however, for 
one was ducked in 181 1 and another in 1817. Later still the famous 
editorial critic, Mrs. Anne Royall, was sentenced by a court in 
Washington, D. G, to be ducked in the Potomac a sentence that 
was quickly commuted to a fine. 

With these occasional exceptions it may be stated that in the 
early years of the century fines or imprisonment or both had re- 
placed the old forms of corporal punishment in the United States. 
The death penalty was reserved for one or two crimes, and pillory, 
branding iron, and whipping post had disappeared from public 



Offenders against the law were temporarily confined in jail while 
awaiting trial or punishment. They were not considered to have 
rights it was necessary to respect, and their comfort in confinement 
was not a matter of public concern. When imprisonment came to 
take the place of corporal punishment, the jails became the first 
prisons and provision was necessary for making them more than 
temporary abodes. Public-spirited men of the Revolutionary period 
were quick to see that reforms were necessary before imprisonment 
could carry with it the possibility of reformation. Anticipating the 
action of government, such men, exercising the civil liberties granted 
them in the new constitutions, organized societies to investigate, 
make reports, and work to alleviate conditions in the public prisons. 
The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries, of Public 
Prisons was the first, and for a long time the most effective, of such 
organizations, and its work was copied by philanthropists in other 

communities. 5 

Among the prominent Philadelphians who were willing to share 
in the work of reform were: Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, 
William Bradford, the author of the state's new criminal code, Wil- 
liam White, bishop of the Episcopal church and president of the 
prison society for forty-nine years, Caleb Lownes, head of the Wal- 
nut Street jail in its best days, and the Quaker Roberts Vaux and 
his son Richard, who were the authors of many of the reports of 
the Philadelphia society. Some of these men were active members 
of the society, others cooperated with it in its efforts to accomplish 
its twofold purpose: ameliorating conditions in the Walnut Street 
and High Street jails in the City of Brotherly Love, and formulating 
plans for a modern prison to be constructed by the state as a part of 
its duty to those whom its laws condemned to confinement. 

In the year of its organization the society introduced religious 
services in the Walnut Street jail, an action opposed by the keeper 
of the jail and made possible only by the written command of the 
sheriff of the county. This is said to have been the first religious 
service ever conducted in an American penal institution. 6 Whether 
that is tue or not, the act set the tone for much of the work of this 
and other similar societies. Sunday services for the assembled pris- 
oners and Sunday schools for religious instruction and for teaching 


elementary subjects to illiterate prisoners soon came to be major 
planks in the platform of prison reform groups. Bibles were pro- 
vided for every cell, and special visitors listened to the stories of the 
prisoners and gave such counsel as their hearts might dictate. 

Prison discipline societies always numbered clergymen among 
their members and strove to provide the institutions they served 
with resident chaplains whose entire time could be given to the spir- 
itual regeneration of the prisoners. Missionaries sent out by the 
prison societies and itinerant evangelists of various faiths conducted 
revivals within prison walls and rejoiced over the salvation of souls 
that to the revivalist must have seemed only a shade blacker than 
those of his usual congregations. Between religious services prison- 
ers were encouraged to commit to memory passages from the Bibles 
to which they had constant access. One prison visitor reported that 
in eighteen weeks several prisoners had memorized forty-two entire 
books of the Bible. 7 Early nineteenth-century religious faith could 
deny to no one the possibility of spiritual regeneration and conver- 
sion. Perfection was not beyond the grasp of even the most de- 
graded soul, and assurance of rebirth and new life for the contrite 
sinner made the reformation of the criminal seem far from improb- 

Actual conditions in the old jails, now serving as catchalls for all 
varieties of offenders, the reformers found to be far from conducive 
to the regeneration of the prisoners. They were instead a school for 
crime and a breeding place for both physical and mental disease. 
The early reports of the Philadelphia society may be taken as por- 
trayals of conditions typical throughout the country. Rural jails 
may have been less crowded and therefore less of a menace to the 
health and morals of those thrown into them, but wherever illustra- 
tive material for them can be found the same black picture appears. 

In 1788 Roberts Vaux reported to the Philadelphia society the 
results of his careful investigation of prison conditions. He had 
found that the clothing of the prisoners was scanty, because the 
inmates customarily confiscated the outer garments of incoming 
prisoners to pay for rum for the whole group. There was no separa- 
tion of sexes, nor was there any segregation of young offenders; all 
prisoners were confined in large groups in small rooms with little 
furniture and less heat. They were charged for food and lodging, 


poor though both might be, and those judged innocent when their 
cases came to trial might be detained as debtors for the nonpayment 
of jail fees. Debtors were confined with criminals and received 
practically the same treatment. Food was, for the most part, bad, 
and it seemed to Vaux unnecessarily hard that mothers with babies 
should be given the same food, both in quality and quantity, as 
single persons. Rum was sold by the jailers, who expected to profit 
from the miseries of the wretches in their charge. Vaux's report 
ended with the recommendation that all prisoners be confined in 
separate cells and provided with labor "more private or even soli- 
tary labor would more successfully tend to redeem the unhappy 
objects/' Vaux urged that the sexes be separated at all times and 
that hardened criminals be kept away from first offenders, and he 
strongly recommended the "prohibition of spirituous liquor among 
the criminals." 8 

This report, sent in the form of a memorial to the state legisla- 
ture, produced an immediate and pronounced effect. Its chief recom- 
mendations were enacted into laws that provided for the separation 
of witnesses and debtors from convicts, for the proper segregation 
of the sexes, for the erection of a block of cells for the solitary con- 
finement of "the more hardened and atrocious offenders," and for 
the labor of all those convicted of crime. Before 1800, however, 
conditions were again almost as bad as before; public interest sub- 
sided, as the population grew the jails were overcrowded, and the 
society despaired of any improvement until the state had built an 
adequate prison. The work of the Pennsylvania reformers was di- 
rected, therefore, toward creating a public demand for new prison 

Conditions in other states in the years after the Revolution were 
similar to those in Pennsylvania. No one knew those conditions bet- 
ter than the notorious Stephen Burroughs, and his memoirs are a 
mine of information about the jails and prisons of his day as well 
as about the life of the underworld and the demiworld of the 
period. 9 Burroughs' autobiography, in the form of a series of letters, 
begins with the lySo's and extends into the early years of the nine- 
teenth century. He admitted that when he was a boy everyone said 
he would be hanged before he was forty, and the reader of his 
memoirs is surprised that this fate had not yet overtaken him. After 


many youthful pranks, Burroughs spent some time at Dartmouth, 
studied for the ministry, taught a district school, tried the life of a 
sailor, and wandered about New England, living, apparently, by his 
wits. He became involved in counterfeiting and was sentenced to 
three years in jail in Northampton, Massachusetts, thus beginning a 
career that was to be spent, to a considerable extent, in various 
houses of detention. 

In Northampton he was confined in a small cell with two other 
men. The food was scanty, the cell was cold, and the men were 
given no work to do. Their entire time was occupied with efforts 
to escape, and their failures resulted in repeated floggings and in 
confinement in a dungeon, where Burroughs was chained to a staple 
in the floor by ten feet of chain fastened to a six-inch band about 
his leg. When he attempted to commit suicide by burning the jail, 
he was again flogged and thrown back into the dungeon, to be 
chained this time with two leg rings, handcuffs, and an iron around 
his waist. After a month of solitary confinement, almost without 
food, in this cold, dark dungeon, Burroughs was transferred to 
Castle Island in the Boston harbor, where the state maintained a 
prison managed by the state militia. Again he tried to escape, and 
again he was whipped and mistreated. Finally his term ended, and he 
was released, only to fall into further difficulties and to be returned 
to jail for other offenses. Burroughs' memoirs, even allowing for his 
undoubted exaggeration, depict the conditions against which the 
philanthropists were protesting and indicate that pious New Eng- 
land was no more humane than the Quaker capital. 

Massachusetts and other states were being roused, however, to 
build the new prisons necessary to take care of those for whom the 
new criminal codes prescribed prison sentences. In Virginia in 1800 
Thomas Jefferson, using a European plan, designed the Richmond 
penitentiary to provide solitary confinement for each prisoner. The 
reforms being instituted in the Walnut Street jail led to similar ef- 
forts in new prisons at Newgate, New York, Charlestown, Massa- 
chusetts, Baltimore, Maryland, and Windsor, Vermont, in the period 
1795-1810. Unfortunately, however, none of these new buildings 
used the separate cell system, and they were soon so overcrowded 
that conditions reverted to the old evils. Prisons built in the new 
Western states were crude efforts to confine the prisoner in secu- 


rity, Connecticut continued to use its copper mine for a prison, and 
other states relied on their old county jails. The United States could 
not be said to have evolved a prison system in the first forty years 
of the republic. 


After 1815, in the renewed wave of revivalism and humanitarian- 
ism that swept the country, the cause of prison reform gained more 
adherents and new urgency. The Philadelphia society petitioned 
the legislature again and again for new buildings, constantly reiter- 
ating its plea that prisoners be confined in a solitude upon which 
religious and reformatory influence might be brought to bear and 
in which constant salutary labor might inculcate habits of industry 
that would persist when the prisoner returned to life outside prison 

In the state of New York, where the rapid increase of population 
made action a necessity, two new prisons were provided by law in 
1816. The first to be built the Auburn Penitentiary was orig- 
inally designed for the old congregate system, but a group of re- 
formers who were in touch with the Philadelphia society and with 
movements abroad secured additional legislation instituting the cell 
system. An economical contractor built the cell block in such a 
fashion that each man was allotted a space just seven feet long, three 
and a half feet wide, and seven feet high. These cells were venti- 
lated from the roof and had no outside windows. 

The effect of solitary confinement in such close quarters was ap- 
palling. The health of the men deteriorated, and several became 
insane. The men in control of prison policy Elam Lynds, John 
Cray, and Gersham Powers therefore altered the system in 1823 
by providing congregate labor in the daytime and the use of the 
cells only at night. All sorts of workshops were built in the open 
space between the rectangular cell block and the prison walls, and 
die men left their cubicles in the early morning for a hard day's la- 
bor outside. The discipline was severe. The convicts marched to 
work in lock step, were never placed face to face, and were strictly 
forbidden to speak to each other. Every infraction of the rules was 
instantly and harshly punished. Flogging was selected as the most 
desirable form of punishment, for, unless extremely severe, it did 
not long interrupt the prisoner's labor. Working under such a re- 



From William Crawford's report on the penitentiaries of the United States, 1834 

The Auburn system of cell blocks with common dining quarters, 
chapely and 'workshops 

gime, the convicts were relatively easy to control, and one sentinel 
was sufficient for more than a hundred prisoners. This became 
known as the Auburn system. 

The second of New York's new prisons was constructed, under 
the supervision of Elam Lynds, at Sing Sing on the Hudson River. 
Built on the Auburn system, it contained one thousand cells. When 
De Tocqueville and De Beaumont came to America in 183 1 with a 
commission from the French government to study penal institu- 
tions, they made a thorough investigation of this prison, remaining 
there for nine days, and went away filled with wonder at the suc- 
cess of the system. De Tocqueville commented upon the health of 
the inmates, the productiveness of their labor, the excess of income 


over expenditures, and the encouragement given to moral reform 
although his Gallic realism made him doubt the effectiveness of the 
religious influences with men "hardened in crime and inveterately 
corrupt/' 10 The young Frenchmen were much impressed by the 
sight of the prisoners working in the stone quarries in absolute si- 
lence, watched by a mere handful of guards, but they felt the prison 
was a volcano that might at any moment erupt in violent action. 
De Tocqueville wrote: 

One cannot see the prison of Sing-Sing and the system of labour which 
is there established without being struck by astonishment and fear. Al- 
though the discipline is perfect, one feels that it rests on a fragile founda- 
tion; it is due to a tour de -force which is reborn unceasingly and which 
has to be reproduced each day, under penalty of compromising the 
whole system of discipline. ... it seems to us impossible not to fear 
some sort of catastrophe in the future. 11 

Prison labor was performed under contract, representatives of 
the contractor being present to supervise the work done for them. 
The English visitor, James Stuart, recorded that in 1829 the ex- 
penses of the prison at Auburn were approximately thirty-four 
thousand dollars while the receipts from convict labor were nearly 
forty thousand. 12 Another Englishman of the period, Henry Tudor, 
praised the Auburn system highly, stating that a great many of the 
convicts had become honest and industrious citizens when their 
prison terms ended, because the combination of solitary confine- 
ment and congregate labor had fitted them for better lives. 

One of the highly beneficial effects of this excellent system [he 
wrote] and a proof of its superior and economical organization is, that 
the earnings of the prisoners, in their daily convocations, exceed very 
considerably the expenses attendant on their confinement; and which 
surplus is, I understand, very wisely and humanely given to the felons, 
on their discharge, in order to set them up in some honest calling. 18 

Since their report was designed for the guidance of the French 
government in reorganizing its prison system, De Tocqueville and 
De Beaumont broke down the figures for expenditures and receipts 
and carefully examined statistics as to costs and as to the terms of 
contract labor. They found that where the Auburn system was in 
effect nearly everything used in the prison was made within its 
walls by convict labor and that almost one third of the prisoners 



From William Crawford's report on the penitentiaries of the United States, 1834 

The Pennsylvania system for solitary confinement, in which each 
prisoner was provided with a cell and small exercise yard 

were occupied in prison economy. Contract labor was leased at 
about half the rate for free labor, and the receipts made it possible 
to administer the prisons at no cost, perhaps even at a profit, to the 
state. Such a system might, they thought, work more profitably in 
America, where the labor supply was inadequate and the demand 
for manufactured goods was great, than it would in France, but 
they agreed that its effects upon French prisoners would be equally 
beneficial. 1 * 

Sooner or later all who visited one of the prisons designed on the 
Auburn system went on to examine the Eastern State Penitentiary 


at Cherry Hill, just outside Philadelphia. Its construction, under- 
taken in 1829, was the result of the long campaign by a whole gen- 
eration of reformers. In appearance the Pennsylvania institution 
was like a medieval fortress. From an octagonal central tower ex- 
tended seven long one-storied corridors, lined on both sides with 
large cells, each designed for a single inmate. A massive rectangular 
waU surrounded the entire structure. Every cell had its own small 
walled courtyard and was provided with decent furniture, running 
water, and toilet facilities that must have seemed ultramodern in 
the 1 830*8. 

The occupants of these cells were to live and work in complete 
solitude for the duration of their sentences, receiving no visitors ex- 
cept the prison officers, the Chaplain, and the representatives of cer- 
tain charitable organizations. They were permitted no contacts with 
each other, received no news of the outside world, and had no 
communication with their families or friends. Within his cell each 
prisoner worked with tools and upon tasks provided by the prison 
authorities. In solitude he was expected to read the Bible, to medi- 
tate upon his condition, and to develop mentally and spiritually, un- 
til he might, upon obtaining his freedom, lead a new and different 

Obviously the cost of the Pennsylvania prison was great more 
than seven hundred thousand dollars for a structure to house fewer 
than three hundred prisoners. It was equally obvious that the labor 
of these convicts working alone in their cells would not be as prof- 
itable as the workshops of the Auburn system. 15 The merit of the 
Pennsylvania plan was claimed to be a greater effectiveness in 
the reformation of the inmates. Advocates of the Auburn plan 
countered with the assertion that congregate labor was better for 
the health of the prisoner, and they quoted figures to show that the 
death rate was three or four times higher in the Pennsylvania prison 
than in prisons of the New York type. They claimed that solitary 
confinement was conducive to insanity, too, and said the New Jer- 
sey prison authorities had admitted as much when they reported 
that upon the first evidence of insanity in a prisoner they placed a 
second man in his cell a treatment that "invariably restores the 

While the Pennsylvania prison was being built, Louis Dwight, 


the crusading head of the Boston Prison Discipline Society, was 
stirring the public conscience of New England to build new prisons 
and reform the management of olde^institutions. The Auburn sys- 
tem appealed to Dwight as a program that could be sold both to 
legislative bodies and to religious organizations interested in the 
salvation of sinners. 

In the Massachusetts prison at Charlestown Dwight found the 
evils that had been condemned by the prison societies for many 
years. Not only could he call it a school for crime, but its discipline 
seemed to him inhumane and indifferent to the moral needs of the 
prisoners. In 1815 the directors of the prison had issued a declara- 
tion that prison "discipline should be as severe as the law of hu- 
manity will by any means tolerate" and that the mind of the 
prisoner "requires to be reduced to a state of humiliation." 16 Per- 
haps in recognition of this avowed necessity for "conquering the 
minds" of the prisoners, the old practice of tattooing on each con- 
vict the words Massachusetts State Prison was not abolished until 

The Boston Prison Discipline Society devoted its energies to 
changing the public attitude toward prison discipline and to per- 
suading the legislature to appropriate funds for erecting a cell block 
in the Charlestown prison, so that the Auburn system might be in- 
stituted. After that had been done, the Massachusetts prison took 
its place with Auburn and Sing Sing in attracting American and 
European visitors interested in prison reform. The changes effected 
by the religious work of Dwight and the Boston society led most 
of the visitors to commend the Charlestown prison especially for 
its reformatory possibilities. The whip, for instance, so often in evi- 
dence at Auburn and Sing Sing, was much more sparingly used at 
Charlestown. Punishment usually for infraction of the rules for 
silence was ordinarily confinement in the cell or a temporary 
bread-and-water diet. 

Dwight was responsible, in part at least, for the establishment 
of the model prison at Wethersfield, Connecticut, for it was his 
scathing invective against the continued use of the old copper mine 
that shamed the legislators into appropriating funds for a new 
prison. Wethersfield, too, attracted a constant stream of visitors 
from other states and from foreign countries, and furnished the ex- 


ample used by Dwight as he toured the country in the cause of 
reform. The low cost of construction, the large returns from prison 
labor, the educational and religious activities maintained within the 
prison all were ammunition for the enthusiastic Mr. Dwight. 
Connecticut was fortunate in securing as warden the able adminis- 
trator and supporter of reform measures, Moses Pillsbury, 17 who 
served in that capacity for twenty years and was followed in office 
by his equally efficient son, Amos Pillsbury. De Beaumont and 
De Tocqueville found conditions at Wethersfield excellent and re- 
ported that, under the mildest discipline of any prison they had 
visited, the inmates earned twice their cost to the state. Within a 
few months of the visit of the laudatory Frenchmen, however, all 
Connecticut was shaken by the disclosure that this great profit had 
been secured at the expense of food, fuel, and other comforts to 
which the prisoners had been entitled. There was need for con- 
stant vigilance on the part of prison societies and inspectors. 

New Hampshire, Vermont, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, and 
Tennessee fell into line before 1840 and constructed new prisons, 
using some modification of the Auburn system as their model. In 
the meantime the Eastern State Penitentiary had been completed, 
and the controversy over the two systems had got under way. The 
Philadelphia plan was extolled to Louis Dwight, but his mind was 
already made up, and for thirty years his vigorous and positive sup- 
port was given to the Auburn system. Partly because of Dwight's 
missionary enterprise, but probably still more because of the eco- 
nomic advantages of the Auburn system, most of the prison build- 
ing of the mid-nineteenth century was on that model. New Jersey, 
in 1833, built a prison much like the Eastern State Penitentiary, but 
was never able to provide the combination of large cells, outdoor 
exercise yards, and full labor for each prisoner that had been the 
most praised features of that institution. Before 1860 New Jersey 
went over to the Auburn system. Virginia and Rhode Island also 
attempted to follow the Pennsylvania system but found administra- 
tion too difficult and costs too great. 

Abroad, however, prisons were built on the Pennsylvania model 
in several countries at the recommendation of investigators who 
had been sent to the United States. Nonetheless, European visitors 
were as divided as Americans about the merits of the rival systems. 


De Tocqueville and De Beaumont, qualified investigators, were less 
outspokenly partisan than certain traveling philanthropists, but 
they were perhaps better informed and more careful in their esti- 
mates. Their considered verdict was this: 

The Philadelphia system being also that which produces the deepest 
impression on the soul of the convict, must effect more reformation than 
that of Auburn. The latter, however, is perhaps the more conformable 
to the habits of man in society, and on this account effects a greater 
number of reformations, which might be called "legal," inasmuch as 
they produce the external fulfillment of social obligations. If it be so, 
the Philadelphia system produces more honest men, and that of New 
York more obedient citizens. 18 

Having thus confounded the Reverend Louis Dwight and all re- 
vivalistic prison reformers, the Frenchmen went on to assert that 
in all American prisons discipline was severe, whether with the ob- 
jective to punish or to reform. At Auburn they could find little 
humanitarianism, f or order depended upon the whip, and in the 
Philadelphia prison man's greatest stricture upon man solitude 
was the method used to the same end. 

To sum up the whole on this point [they wrote] it must be acknowl- 
edged that the penitentiary system in America is severe. Whilst society 
in the United States gives the example of the most extended liberty, the 
prisons of the same country offer the spectacle of the most complete 
despotism. The citizens subject to the law are protected by it; they only 
cease to be free when they become wicked. 19 

No one among prison authorities or among the ubiquitous Euro- 
pean visitors seems to have considered the wishes of the prisoners in 
regard to these persistent official and unofficial visitations. Harriet 
Martineau and Charles Dickens repeated at length their private con- 
versations with the prisoners in the eastern Pennsylvania prison 
men who were not allowed visits from their friends or relatives but 
who were presumed to welcome the curiosity of distinguished for- 
eigners. De Tocqueville remained for weeks within prison walls 
and questioned wardens and prisoners at will, apparently received 
with as much courtesy by the latter as by the former. In the years 
when the authorities at Auburn charged twenty-five cents per visi- 
tor, one English traveler, and only one, appeared aware of the 
indignity inflicted upon the prisoner, who even in solitary confine- 


ment could find no privacy. Captain Marryat happened on a little 
book, The Rat-Trap, or Cogitations of a Convict in the House of 
Correction } written by a scholarly American brought low by "in- 
temperance, the prevalent vice of America." This prisoner-author 
impressed Marryat with the fervor of his protest against public in- 

Among the annoyances, which others as well as myself felt most gall- 
ing, was the frequent intrusion of visitors, who had no object but the 
gratification of a morbid curiosity. Know all persons, that the most 
debased convict has human feelings, and does not like to be seen in a 
parti-coloured jacket. . . . Let the throng of uninvited fools who 
swarmed about us, accept the following sally of the House of Correction 
muse, from the pen, or rather the fork of a fellow convict. 

To Our Visitors 

By gazing at us, sirs, pray what do you mean? 
Are we tne first rascals that ever were seen? 
Look into your mirrors perhaps you may find 
All villains are not in South Boston confined. 

Fm not a wild beast, to be seen for a penny; 
But a man, as well made and as proper as any; 
And what we must differ in is, well I wot, 
That I have my merits, and you have them not. 

And now that by staring with mouth and eyes open, 
Ye have bruised the reeds that already were broken; 
Go home and, by dint of strict mental inspection, 
Let each make his own house a House of Correction. 20 

Through all the agitation by enthusiastic and devoted humani- 
tarian reformers much was done. By 1840 twelve Auburn type 
prisons had been constructed with a total cell capacity of nearly 
five thousand: All these prisons were operating prosperous indus- 
trial departments; four of them had fairly good women's depart- 
ments; four had permanent chaplains; and several ran Sunday 
schools for the instruction of illiterates. About one half of them had 
abolished the use of the lash, and a few most notably Richmond 
were experimenting with the merit system. The Philadelphia sys- 
tem was in operation in two prisons in Pennsylvania and in the New 
Jersey penitentiary, Maine and Rhode Island had adopted the soli- 
tary system in the crudest possible manner; in the Maine prison there 


were a few underground pits, so crowded that there were always two 
or more in a cell; in Rhode Island provision had been made for tiny 
inside cells in the Providence jail. After 1840 improvements were 
made in old prisons and new building continued, especially in the 
West. Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa built on the Auburn plan, 
and Alabama and Louisiana copied the cell block system and de- 
veloped prison industries as a part of the South's attempt to foster 
industrial advancement. 21 But much remained to be done. As Fran- 
cis Lieber summarized the state of affairs: 

Prisons have been called hospitals for patients laboring under moral dis- 
eases, but until recently, they have been in all countries where any 
existed, and unfortunately continue still to be in most countries, of a 
kind that they ought to be compared rather to the plague-houses of the 
East, in which every person afflicted with that mortal disorder is sure 
to perish, and he who is sent there without yet being attacked, is sure to 
have it. 22 


In the days when corporal punishment was the fate of those who 
transgressed the laws of the state, the jails were occupied largely by 
debtors, who were more the victims of certain conditions of society 
than offenders against its dictates. And when new laws provided 
imprisonment for offenses that had formerly been punished by lash 
or executioner, the unfortunate inhabitants of the county jails re- 
ceived as fellow inmates the criminals with whom they had little in 
common except their helplessness. 

The lot of the debtor received little attention in the period of 
reform after the Revolution. The new states retained the statutes of 
the colonial period in all their harshness and prescribed imprison- 
ment for the debtor until such time as his debts might be paid. In 
the period of depression after 1819, the plight of the debtor came 
up for review, and, once called to the attention of the awakening 
humanitarian sentiment of the day and to the attention of the 
workingmen who were beginning to exercise their newly won suf- 
fragethat plight did not go without remedy. 

In 1816 there were nearly two thousand debtors confined in the 
jails of New York City, the average at any given time being about 
six hundred. More than a thousand of these unfortunates were con- 
fined for debts of less than fifty dollars, and seven hundred of them 


for debts below twenty-five dollars. The state made no provision 
for food, furniture, or fuel in the quarters allotted to debtors, and 
these miserable men would have starved except for the kindness of 
the Humane Society. In the winter of 1 8 1 6 the sheriff of the county 
protested that, since he could not endure to permit his hapless 
charges to freeze, he had been compelled to pay for fuel from his 
own purse. One prisoner was held in jail for three years, and an- 
other for six years, for a debt under fifty dollars and both were sup- 
ported during that time entirely by charity. 

The futility of such a practice, from the point of view of both 
debtor and society, was clear. Debtors might be, and often were, 
imprisoned by unscrupulous competitors for spite, and, while in 
confinement, it was entirely impossible for them to earn the money 
to repay the debts for which they had been thrown into jail. In a 
Vermont case that was given great publicity a man owed a firm of 
two a debt of fifty-four cents. Each creditor by court action had 
his debtor imprisoned for twenty-seven cents. The costs in both 
cases were charged to the debtor, thus increasing his obligation by 
nearly fifteen dollars. How he could, from the county jail, pay the 
latter sum when the former had been beyond his resources was not 
stated in court. The creditors' vindictiveness, which had been the 
cause of the suit, had been satisfied, however, and the fate of the 
debtor was considered his just due. The Puritan moral code that 
considered thrift a major virtue and wealth an evidence of God's 
favor offered no comfort for those whose poverty or shif tlessness 
were adjudged indications of probable depravity. 

The Boston Society for the Relief of the Distressed reported 
that about thirty-five hundred persons had been imprisoned for 
debt in that city from January 1820 to April 1822. Two thousand 
had been confined for less than twenty dollars each, and nearly five 
hundred of the whole number were women. The agents of the 
society estimated that more than ten thousand people were helpless 
subjects of charity because of the imprisonment of those who 
might have provided for their care. The society reported the case 
of a woman who had been taken from her home and little children 
because of a debt of three dollars, and the even more dramatic case 
of a man who had been held in jail for thirty years for a trifling 
debt that had grown to three thousand dollars because of the jail 


fees, interest, and costs that had accumulated as the years crept by. 

In Philadelphia in 1828 the keeper of the debtors' prison reported 
that he had held more than a thousand men for debts totaling 
twenty-five thousand dollars, at a cost to the community of nearly 
twelve times that sum. In the Philadelphia jail seven men were con- 
fined for a total of one hundred and seventy-two days for a joint 
indebtedness of less than three dollars; one was in for two cents. 
There were nearly a thousand debtors in the Baltimore jail in 1831; 
more than one half of them owed less than ten dollars, and only 
about thirty owed as much as one hundred. Examples could be 
multiplied ad infinitum; the plight of the debtor was the same 

When sufficient publicity was given to these conditions, changes 
were made, although progress was slow and there was little uni- 
formity in the way the problem was approached in the various 
states. It was argued that imprisonment for debt was not demo- 
cratic and was "obviously intended to increase and confirm the 
power of a wealthy aristocracy by rendering poverty a crime, and 
subjecting the liberty of the poor to the capricious will of the 
rich." 28 One of the first reforms sought was the elimination of the 
crowd of prisoners whose debts were trivial and whose imprison- 
ment was an expense to society out of all proportion to the total of 
their debts. In 1817 the New York legislature passed a law making 
twenty-five dollars the minimum debt for which a man could be 
imprisoned. Other states quickly followed suit, some of them add- 
ing clauses that no women could be jailed for debt. In 1821 Ken- 
tucky abolished all imprisonment for debt. A similar law was 
adopted in Ohio in 1828; Vermont and New Jersey added their 
approval in 1830; New York did the same two years later; Con- 
necticut followed in 1837, Louisiana in 1840, Missouri in 1845, and 
Alabama in 1848. So the states fell into line, and the debtors' prison 
gradually became a thing of the past. 


Wards of the State 

As soon as men began to consider prison reform, they recognized 
a fundamental inconsistency in professing concern for the reforma- 
tion of the criminal and ignoring the condition of those who had 
been placed in jail because of misdemeanors. Incarcerated in com- 
mon rooms with hardened criminals, young boys, and older mis- 
demeanants as well, were inevitably schooled in crime and were 
discharged only to appear again on more serious charges. And the 
removal of the criminal to the new prisons provided by the states 
did not solve the problem, for the jails remained a sordid and 
squalid catchall for the dregs of society. Out of the realization of 
this situation came two new institutions, correctional rather than 
penal the juvenile reform school, or house of refuge, and the 
house of correction for misdemeanants. 


Even those who doubted the possibility of reforming the hard- 
ened criminal were convinced that the child, whose offense had 
been due more to the environment in which he lived than to his 
own depravity, might be educated to desire a better life and to play 
a useful part in the community. The adult, too, who had been ar- 
rested for vagrancy, drunkenness, or petty thievery all due, in 
large part, to poverty and lack of adequate training might be 
turned into a useful member of the society whose previous neglect 
had placed him in custody. 

Charitable and religious organizations had for generations made 
partial provision for the care of the fatherless. The humanitarianism 
of the nineteenth century led to a marked increase in the number of 
orphan asylums and an improvement in the care they provided. 
Supported by local charity and by religious denominations, orphan- 
ages and orphan schools were maintained in all large cities, but even 
these reached the needs of only a few of the nation's unfortunate 
children. The offspring of the destitute poor in both urban and 
rural areas were offered little in the way of education, encourage- 
ment, or support. Living largely by their wits, they early fell into 



the bad graces of the law, and, thrown into jail, they began their 
careers of crime under good auspices. 

The first reform schools were maintained by private charity in 
connection with urban orphanages. Several European cities were 
having considerable success with this kind of organization when a 
group of public-spirited men in New York City worked out a plan 
for the first institution entirely devoted to the reformation of the 
juvenile offender. Exercised about the growing number of waifs in 
their developing commercial center, in 1816 they formed the So- 
ciety for the Prevention of Pauperism and instituted an investiga- 
tion of juvenile delinquency. They found that many juries refused 
to convict children because there was no provision for their care 
other than in the common gaol, but that, despite this forbearance, 
an average of seventy-five boys had been sent to prison in each of 
the years from 1819 to 1821. The problem of the delinquent girl 
was even more serious, for little provision had as yet been made for 
the separate care of the woman prisoner. The report of this early 
society led to the formation of a new group whose objective was to 
make adequate provision for juvenile offenders of both sexes. With 
Professor John Griscom as its head, this new society, by means of 
funds privately contributed, built the New York House of Refuge 
in 1825. In typical American fashion, the state and the city then 
came to the aid of the society and appropriated funds to maintain 
the institution for five years. After 1830 it became entirely a pub- 
lic institution, drawing all its support from public funds. 

In 1826 Boston, and in 1828 Philadelphia, followed the example 
set by New York. A farm school for juvenile delinquents was es- 
tablished in 1835 on Thompson's Island near Boston; a decade later 
the state of Massachusetts built a large reform school at Westbor- 
ough, and in 1847 it constructed the first reform school exclusively 
for girls. Similar institutions were established in other states, so that 
by 1850 the principle that the delinquent child is a ward of the 
state had been well established. 

In many ways the house of refuge was a part of the prison re- 
form movement, and the separate cell system, the regimentation, 
and the strict discipline of Auburn Penitentiary were reflected in 
the regime set up for juvenile offenders. Not until the late 1850*8 
did the cottage type of institutional building make any headway. 


At the same time the discipline was modified, and institutional life 
was profoundly altered by recognition of the fact that the house of 
refuge was a school as well as a place of confinement. This hybrid 
nature was indicated in the name "reform school." Since placing 
the line of demarcation between correction and education was the 
work of the superintendent, there was wide variation in emphasis in 
different institutions. Most contemporary observers bore witness to 
the dual nature of the institutions they visited and appraised the 
work of those in charge on the basis of their own predilections as to 
where the emphasis should lie. 

Foreign visitors were uniformly enthusiastic about the work done 
by these "child-saving" institutions and nearly always called special 
attention to the fact that the men in charge of them were of the 
highest caliber, educators as well as disciplinarians. One of the first 
European travelers to inspect the New York House of Refuge was 
the Duke of Saxe- Weimar Eisenach, who visited it in its first year. 
He spoke highly of its cleanliness, food, and discipline and com- 
mended its educational work for the children within its walls. When 
he visited it, there were more than a hundred inmates, about three 
fourths of them boys. They were taught elementary subjects and 
were given some sort of mechanical training shoemaking, weaving, 
carpentry. When the young inmate showed evidence of reform and 
had acquired the elements of a trade, he or she was apprenticed or 
"bound out" to a farmer or artisan. Girls were usually placed as 
household servants, and the visitor naively reported that the most 
difficult of the boys were "disposed of as sailors." * 

Thomas Hamilton, who visited the New York institution a few 
years later, described it as a hive of activity where young people 
were taught "the habits of industry and the principles of religion." 
It was the practice of the institution, he said, to send young offend- 
ers out to the country to work as early as possible, in order to re- 
move them from the temptations of the city and permit them to 
start a normal life where their previous conduct was not generally 
known. Hamilton commended the trade schools and ended his ac- 
count with, for him, the most unusual statement that he "found no 
fault in any department." 2 

James Silk Buckingham, an indefatigable visitor of institutions, 
found about two hundred and fifty children in the New York 


House of Refuge in 1 840, and he was struck by the evidences of bad 
heritage shown in their faces. One of the fads of the day was evi- 
denced in his closing comment: 

They exhibited ... the worst collection of countenances we had ever 
seen; and in their heads and faces, the phrenologist and physiognomist 
would both have found abundant proofs of the general truth of their 
theories, that the shape of the cranium and the expression of the fea- 
tures are often faithful indexes of the minds within. 8 

Buckingham also visited the Dutch Farm on Long Island, where 
boy vagrants who had committed no crimes maintained themselves 
by their own industry, were taught a trade, and were given disci- 
pline, moral training, and an elementary education. This farm-school 
was, he thought, to be especially recommended. 

William Crawford, a professional investigator sent over by the 
English government, visited each state in the Union and reported 
fully in 1834 on all the institutions he had inspected. His brief state- 
ment concerning the New York reform school included a complete 
schedule of its daily activities. The inmates rose at sunrise (before 
sunrise in the winter) and went directly to morning prayers; they 
attended school from five-thirty to seven, then had breakfast and 
worked until noon. After dinner they spent four hours in the work- 
shops; supper came at five-thirty; after supper there was another 
hour or two of schoolwork, followed by evening prayers. Such a 
program, Crawford thought, left no time for mischief and seemed 
efficacious in producing reformation. 4 

Again it was the two French investigators who provided the most 
complete information. Their report on the penitentiary system in 
the United States contained an appendix loaded with detail on the 
reform schools, and their letters were full of comments on an insti- 
tution they felt to be very modern, peculiarly American, and a real 
hope for the future. They were deeply interested in the house of 
refuge in Boston and in its superintendent, the Reverend E. M. P. 
Wells, whose influence permeated the entire institution. This ref- 
uge was, they felt, half prison, half school, and wholly reformatory. 
The children associated and conversed freely during the day but 
were confinfed in separate rooms or cells at night. They spent four 
hours in schoolwork, five hours in the workshops, and one hour in 
religious instruction each day. 


But it was the method of discipline that astounded De Tocque- 
ville. Wells had worked out a system of self-government in which 
children were permitted to participate by consent of a majority of 
the inmates. Those whose conduct was good were given the right 
to vote, to hold office, and to elect their own magistrates and moni- 
tors. If discipline trouble occurred, twelve jurors were selected 
from among the boys themselves, and each case was tried with care- 
ful procedure to secure justice. A register of moral conduct was 
kept, to which each child contributed the material for his own dos- 
sier. The boys were not allowed to denounce each other's faults 
and were not punished for their own if they had freely and sin- 
cerely confessed. No corporal punishment was inflicted, and the 
worst of the various deprivations was exclusion from religious serv- 
ices. Bad boys lost their vote, their right to hold office, and the 
privilege of entering the superintendent's house or consulting with 
him in any way. For boys whose records were exceptionally good 
wide liberties were permitted; a few were even given keys and were 
allowed to come and go as their special activities demanded. 

De Tocqueville and De Beaumont both were incredulous, even 
alarmed, over the Boston system and went away convinced that it 
worked as they were forced to admit it did only because of the 
dynamic personality of Mr. Wells. They found the New York and 
Philadelphia systems less "noble," but probably more practicable 
under ordinary circumstances. In them the hours of shopwork were 
longer and of schoolwork shorter. Discipline was more comparable 
to that of the penitentiary and punishments included loss of recrea- 
tion, solitary confinement, bread-and-water diet, and whipping as 
a last resort. Nathaniel C. Hart, who headed the New York school, 
seemed to the young Frenchmen a high type of practical adminis- 
trator, less idealistic than Wells but more realistic. They approved 
his practice of apprenticing the young offenders when their time 
for release came and accepted his estimate that almost fifty-five per 
cent of the boys released had been genuinely reformed. De Beau- 
mont, who had been extremely dubious about the possibility of re- 
form for the adult criminal, was enthusiastic about the house of 
refuge. It was, he said, "of all the prisons the only one whose 
advantages are not balanced by some disadvantages." 

The separation of misdemeanants from the hardened criminal 


was recommended early in the move for reform, and it was recog- 
nized that the vagrant, the inebriated, and the shiftless ne'er-do-well 
represented a charge on the community that was sure to increase 
unless they were taught, "reformed," and put to work. As early as 
1803 Edward Livingston, then mayor of New York, proposed a 
city workhouse. Some years later such an institution was built at 
Bellevue, and in 1826 it was relocated on Blackwells Island. By that 
time the Auburn cell system was popular, so the new building was 
equipped with individual cells. About the same time the Arch Street 
prison in Philadelphia, built in 1816, was turned into a house of 
correction, but its congregate system made all efforts at reform 
fruitless. Both institutions were long-lived; neither was a solution of 
the problem of the misdemeanant. In 1822 Josiah Quincy, then the 
judge of Essex County, Massachusetts, recommended the establish- 
ment of a house of reform for minor offenders where the teaching 
of handicrafts and other reformatory practices could be inaugu- 
rated. His plan was first worked out in a wing of the local jail, but 
ten years later the Boston House of Correction was constructed 
with provisions for both labor and discipline. For many years this 
Boston institution was unique, and it long served as a model for 
others of the same nature. 

There was no widespread adoption of the reform school or the 
house of correction in the pre-Civil War period. Such correctional 
work was largely neglected while reformers devoted their attention 
to the penitentiaries, and its alternative, the local jail, was for many- 
years a blot upon the American social structure. There were at this 
time probably less than a half-dozen local jails that could be con- 
sidered good and only one, that at Hartford, Connecticut, that was 
especially to be commended. The most that can be said is that a few 
significant contributions were made by institutions and superinten- 
dents who were distinctly ahead of their times. 


Reformers of the day recognized the care of the indigent poor 
as another field for humanitarian effort. The problem of poor re- 
lief had received little real attention since the days of Queen Eliza- 
beth. To the Puritan idleness was a sin and pauperism was akin to 
crime, and the fact that in America labor was scarce and land was 


cheap tended to substantiate the idea that abject poverty was evi- 
dence of improvidence, shiftlessness, or criminal waste. So well on 
into the nineteenth century the poor were treated with infinite vari- 
ations on the theme of man's inhumanity to man. 

In the days when America was largely rural, there was little 
effort to provide for anything except outdoor relief; there were 
few almshouses. Such aid as was furnished for the indigent poor was 
given in their own homes, if they had any; if not, provision was 
made in the abodes of others. Orphan children and the children of 
parents who could not support them were bound out. "Going on the 
town" was a calamity to be avoided at all hazards. The principle 
was accepted throughout the colonies that support of a poor fam- 
ily devolved upon the locality in which it resided, and no locality 
accepted any obligation it could possibly evade. 

In the larger towns, where there was a greater number of poor 
people, and in some of the counties of central and southern states it 
proved economically advantageous to provide almshouses for the 
unfortunate aged, the orphans, and the maimed or otherwise help- 
less poor. Often the insane and the imbecile who became charges 
of the community were housed with them. Where there were no 
almshouses these irrational unfortunates might be confined in the 
jail or pkced in the custody of someone hired by the town. 

Occasionally an almshouse was a well-kept and pleasant place; 
more often it bore witness to the complete indifference and the 
parsimony of the community. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who as- 
siduously visited every variety of American institution, described in 
detail one commendable almshouse, the one in Baltimore. Built after 
the humanitarians had aired the cause of the indigent, it was four 
years old in 1825 when the noble visitor saw it. There was a wing 
for men and one for women, an infirmary with separate rooms for 
the insane, a school for children, and gardens and shops where able- 
bodied inmates produced articles for the use of the institution. 5 

The Baltimore almshouse was an exception in this period, how- 
ever. More often children, prostitutes, vagrants, drunkards, idiots, 
and maniacs were herded together at the least possible cost to the 
community. Sometimes the almshouses were privately owned and 
run for profit, taking the poor on contract from the local authori- 
ties. Only occasionally was there any attempt to make them work- 


houses providing salutary employment for their inmates. In 1834, 
for example, the Boston House of Industry (built in 1821) was so 
overcrowded that there could be little separation of different classes 
of inmates. It housed sixty insane or idiotic persons, about one hun- 
dred and thirty ill and infirm, more than one hundred children and 
infants, and two hundred others listed as "unclassified." Its name 
was a misnomer, for little constructive labor was done. 

It was the constant effort of each locality to fulfill the minimum 
requirements of its obligation at the lowest cost. Children were 
often bid off at auction for the labor they might perform, and the 
town paid the amount of the lowest bid for the support of the child 
"sold." Very illuminating in this connection is an excerpt from the 
town records of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, an item of 1813 inquir- 
ing "what method the town will take to get rid of the support of 
Ephraim Farnsworth's family." In the selectmen's report of 1820 
appears a summary of the conditions on which the poor of the town 
were farmed out for the year: 

... the undertaker to Board, Clothe and Comfortably provide for, in 
sickness and health the persons hereafter named. . . . and if any of the 
above named persons should decease within the course of the year, 
the town to be at the expense of burying, and the doctor's bill if any of 
them are sick. . . . The undertaker to have the benefit of the labor of 
said Paupers, and receive his pay quarterly. 6 

Whenever possible the town endeavored to escape the burden of 
caring for those from whom no labor could be expected, and wily 
selectmen often tried to dump undesirables upon neighboring au- 
thorities. One especially unpleasant story tells of the midnight trip 
of such a "guardian of the poor" who bundled up two imbeciles 
they would be unable to name their point of departure and trans- 
ported them to a district miles away from the one he served. 

Since all towns refused responsibility for vagrants,* it became cusr 
tomary for the state to pay for the support of persons without legal 
residence. As population grew and industries developed, this prob- 
lem grew more difficult. Increased immigration added to the num- 
ber of vagrants, especially in the winter months. While the Shakers 
complained of the number of "winter Shakers," the Northeastern 
states wailed that the vagrants used their almshouses as inns, wander- 
ing from one to another and collecting from each the: state aid that 


could not be denied them. They rendered ineffective the local pro- 
visions for relief, increased the hardships of the local poor, and were 
passed on as quickly as possible by the authorities often with bribes 
of liquor. 

The pre-Civil War period saw the recognition of these problems 
and honest humanitarian attempts at their solution. Orphanages, 
houses of correction, and insane asylums drew great numbers from 
the jails into institutions more adequate for their needs. Public sen- 
timent was gradually aroused against the "sale" of the indigent poor 
and against the old practice of binding out unfortunate children. 
Attempts were made to exclude indigent aliens from the country, 
and increasing numbers of almshouses were built by town and state 
funds for institutional relief of cases not otherwise provided for. 
But these measures were little more than a beginning. As old as the 
problem of poverty, the question of public relief, so valiantly at- 
tacked in the first half of the nineteenth century, still awaits the 
solution of the parent problem. 


In the era of humanitarian reform the mere rumor of the possi- 
bility of alleviating the lot of defective children brought eager 
queries and pledges of support from hundreds whose lives had been 
saddened by contact with children thus tragically handicapped. 
Wherever account is given of American progress in educating those 
who from birth or, more commonly, through illness have been de- 
prived of the use of one or more of their senses, honor is given to 
the names of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Samuel Gridley Howe, 
whose lives were devoted to this cause. 

Gallaudet, of French Huguenot extraction, was born in Philadel- 
phia in 1787. He graduated from Yale, studied law for a time, 
taught for a year or two, traveled a bit, and worked as a clerk in a 
New York countinghouse. After these varied attempts to find a 
satisfying profession, he turned in 181 1 to the ministry and entered 
Andover Theological Seminary. Ordained at the age of twenty- 
seven, he might have been expected to settle down at last as the 
minister of one of the churches offered to him in recognition of his 
unquestioned ability. But his attention had been attracted by the 
plight of little Alice Cogswell, the daughter of a physician in Hart- 


ford, Connecticut, who had been a deaf-mute since an illness in her 
infancy. Gallaudet's family had lived for some time in Hartford, 
and little Alice was a playmate of his younger sisters. Meeting her 
often in his father's garden, the serious, philanthropic young man 
became interested in finding some means of educating her so that 
her life would be less empty. 

Dr. Cogswell himself had been making an investigation of Euro- 
pean schools for the deaf, since there were none in America, but the 
idea of sending the child abroad was distasteful to him. Gallaudet's 
success in teaching her the connection between a few written words 
and the objects they represented so encouraged the anxious father 
that he conceived the idea of sending the young man abroad to 
study the best Europeafi methods of teaching deaf-mutes, so that he 
might found a school in Hartford where Alice and others similarly 
afflicted could be taught. A group of philanthropic citizens was in- 
terested, subscriptions were raised, and Gallaudet sailed for Europe 
in May 1813. 

In his absence the voluntary committee continued its work. A 
survey made under the auspices of the Congregational clergy showed 
that there were at least eighty deaf-mutes in Connecticut and prob- 
ably four hundred in New England. And in the whole area there 
was not a single institution for their care and education. The United 
States of that day could not resist an appeal for help in so humane 
a cause. Subscriptions poured in, and the state incorporated the 
"Connecticut Asylum for the education of deaf and dumb persons" 
with a gift of five thousand dollars the first such appropriation in 
the country. When the Congress of the United States, at the urging 
of the representatives from Connecticut, granted a township of 
public land for the support of the project, it at once assumed the 
name of the American Asylum. 

In the meantime, in London and in Paris, Gallaudet pursued his 
quest for knowledge of methods for the instruction of die children 
who were to be placed in his charge. In Paris he was able to arrange 
to take back to America with him a young Frenchman, Laurent 
Clerc, a deaf-mute taught by the Abb6 Sicard, dean of European 
educators of deaf-mutes. With the help of Clerc 'the success of 
the American institution seemed assured, and those interested in it 
turned with renewed efforts to acquiring funds for a building in 


which it could be housed. Opened in 1817 in temporary quarters, 
the little experimental school grew from seven to thirty-one pupils 
within a year. 

Its success in teaching deaf-mutes to read and write, to read lips, 
and to talk by manual signs attracted attention throughout the coun- 
try, and visitors flocked to Hartford. Gallaudet's interest was not 
confined to his own institution but encompassed the welfare of all 
deaf-mutes, and he took his most accomplished pupils on tours, vis- 
iting state legislatures and giving exhibitions in churches. Soon other 
states followed the example of Connecticut, and, with the usual 
combination of private charity and public appropriation, numerous 
schools for the deaf and dumb were founded. Between 1816 and 
1851, the year of Gallaudet's death, New York, Pennsylvania, Ken- 
tucky, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, North Carolina, 
Georgia, South Carolina, Missouri, and Michigan opened institu- 
tions for the deaf. 

Gallaudet himself married a deaf-mute, and their son, Edward M. 
Gallaudet, followed in his father's footsteps and became in 1864 the 
president of the Columbian Institute (founded in 1857) in Wash- 
ington. One of the Institute's departments was the National Deaf 
Mute College, the first institution to offer college work and degrees 
for the deaf. Hi-health forced the elder jGallaudet to retire from the 
management of the American Asylum at Hartford in 1830, but re- 
tirement did not end his labors as an educator or as a humani- 
tarian. During the next twenty years he wrote textbooks, books for 
Sunday school libraries, religious tracts, and articles for many edu- 
cational publications. He was actively interested in a variety of 
educational reforms, in the lyceum movement, and in the growth 
of labor unions. The care of the insane became a major interest of 
his later years, when he served as chaplain of the Worcester Insane 

Samuel Gridley Howe espoused the cause of the blind with a re- 
ligious and humanitarian fervor equal to that of Gallaudet. Howe 
was a somewhat more romantic figure, with such decided charm 
that his contemporaries wrote of him and his work with an enthusi- 
asm even greater than they accorded the equally pioneer efforts of 
Gallaudet. Howe was the son of Boston parents, a graduate of the 
Boston Latin School, of Brown University, and of Harvard Medi- 


cal School ( 1 824) . He spent the next half-dozen years fighting with 
the revolutionary forces of Greece in their struggle for independ- 
ence. After the success of that endeavor, Howe traveled in Europe 
several years, visiting England, France, and Germany in search of 
material on the education of the blind, in which his interest had 
been kindled by his friend, Dr. Fisher of Boston. 

His first school for the blind was in his own home and numbered 
six pupils. Elizabeth Peabody, herself an educator as well as a Tran- 
scendentalist, wrote of this school: 

He had then been about six months at work, and had invented and 
laboriously executed some books with raised letters, to teach them to 
read, some geographical maps, and the geometrical diagrams necessary 
for instruction in mathematics. He had gummed twine, I think, upon 
cardboard, an enormous labor, to form the letters of the alphabet. I shall 
not, in all time, forget the impression made upon me by seeing the hero 
of the Greek Revolution, who had narrowly missed being that of the 
Polish Revolution also; to see this hero, I say, wholly absorbed, and ap- 
plying all the energies of his genius to this apparently humble work, and 
doing it as Christ did, without money and without price. 7 

As soon as his pupils were ready for the experience, Howe took 
them around the state, giving exhibitions of their achievement to 
arouse interest in their behalf. Colonel Perkins of Boston was moved 
to offer his spacious house for a school for the blind if the city 
would raise fifty thousand dollars for its support. The women of 
Boston, determined that this should be done, held in Faneuil Hall 
one of the first great municipal fairs for the cause -of charity. More 
money was obtained by private subscription, and within six weeks 
the entire amount had been raised so that Perkins Institute could be 

As the head of this institution for many years, Howe was inter- 
ested in all the techniques and equipment for teaching the blind. No 
detail was too trivial to engage his attention the size of type, the 
thickness of paper, the height of letters for his great objective was 
to makfe books for the blind more numerous, cheaper, and more 
easily handled. Devoutly religious, although with a simple and beau- 
tiful faith that was far from orthodox, Howe placed his first and 
greatest emphasis upon bringing the Bible within the reach of the 
blind. With the aid of the American Bible Society he produced a 
vast amount of printing in raised type. His school became a teacher 


training institute, and his pupils were the advance guard in estab- 
lishing more schools for the blind* 

Although best known for his work with the blind, Howe was 
not indifferent to the cause of other defectives. Deaf-mutes had a 
special claim on his interest, for one of his greatest triumphs, and 
probably his greatest delight, was the education of Laura Bridgman, 
a girl deaf, dumb, and blind who was brought to him for instruc- 
tion. In 1844 and 1845 he joined Horace Mann in a fight to intro- 
duce in schools for deaf-mutes a new method of instruction by 
which these afflicted children were taught to speak rather than to 
use the manual language. Gallaudet clung to the older methods, and 
it was with great difficulty that Howe and Mann won approval for 
their reform. 

When the state legislature was persuaded to consider the plight 
of the idiot, Howe was put upon the commission of investigation. 
He visited sixty-three towns and examined nearly six hundred of 
these pitiable children. His report to the legislature in 1846 was an 
appeal for the amelioration of their condition and an offer of aid in 
their education. The work was begun in Perkins Institute in 1848 
with a state appropriation of twenty-five hundred dollars a year for 
three years. At the end of that time the appropriation was increased 
and a separate building was provided. This work, continued under 
the inspiration of Howe's enthusiasm, was copied extensively by 
other states. 

When Dorothea Dix began her work for the insane, Howe was 
the rock upon which she depended; he also gave assistance and en- 
couragement to Father Taylor in his work for American seamen; 
and he was one of the greatest leaders of the antislavery movement 
in Massachusetts. The Boston Prison Discipline Society was another 
of his interests. He could not bring himself to advocate the segrega- 
tion and punishment of juvenile offenders, for he always held that 
they should be taught the way to a useful life by being placed in 
Christian families. 

In 1863 Howe was made a member of the Massachusetts Board 
of State Charities (the first to be established in the United States) , 
and he served on that board, part of the time as its president, until 
the last year of his life. There is a strong flavor of modern social 
service, as well as some reflection of early nineteenth-century reluc- 


tance to invoke the aid of the government, in the statement made 
in the first year of his presidency: 

General Principles of Public Charity 

In considering what measures ought to be taken for the care and 
treatment of the dependent and vicious classes, we are to bear in mind 
several principles. 

First. That if, by investing one dollar, we prevent an evil the correc- 
tion of which would cost ten cents a year, we save four per cent. 

Second. That it is better to separate and diffuse the dependent 
classes than to congregate them. 

Third. That we ought to avail ourselves as much as possible of 
those remedial agencies which exist in society The family, social in- 
fluences, industrial occupations, and the like. 

Fourth. That we should enlist not only the greatest possible amount 
of popular sympathy, but the greatest number of individuals and of 
families, in the care and treatment of the dependent. 

Fifth. That we should avail ourselves of responsible societies and or- 
ganizations which aim to reform, support or help any class of depend- 
ents; thus lessening the direct agency of the State, and enlarging that 
of the people themselves. 

Sixth. That we should build up public institutions only in the last 

Seventh. That these should be kept as small as is consistent with wise 
economy, and arranged so as to turn the strength and the faculties of 
the inmates to the best account. 

Eighth. That we should not retain the inmates any longer than is 
manifestly for their good, irrespective of their usefulness in the institu- 
tion. 8 


The attention of humane citizens of Europe and America was 
turned toward the condition and treatment of the insane early in 
the nineteenth century. Rationalism sought the cause for the state 
of the demented person and tests of the effectiveness of treatment, 
while those who believed in the worth of the individual, no matter 
how lowly his estate, could not be satisfied with the theory that the 
insane had lost their humanity and had reverted to the status of ani- 
mals. Indeed, the humanitarian rejected even cruelty to animals. To 
this new attitude toward the mentally afflicted the early nineteenth 
century added the cult of curability that was a part of the current 

The insane, therefore, were men and women, not animals; they 


retained that spark of divinity that was the distinguishing charac- 
teristic of noble manhood; their condition was their misfortune and 
not their fault; society owed them kindness, comfortable environ- 
ment, and every advantage of scientific treatment; religion demanded 
the effort to redeem them from madness and to save their immortal 
souls; optimism and perfectionism encouraged the belief that im- 
proving their condition would bring the cure of their insanity. To 
broadcast and implement these new ideas was the reformer's task. 

One of the first hospitals in America was opened in Philadelphia 
in 1752 with a commission from the colonial legislature to provide 
care for "lunaticks." Three of its first four patients were insane, and 
throughout the rest of the century a half dozen or more of such un- 
fortunates were confined in cells in the basement. The first Ameri- 
can hospital or asylum exclusively for the insane was established in 
1773 in Williamsburg, Virginia. In New York and in Maryland 
general hospitals opened in the 1790*8 made some arrangement for 
insane patients. That seems to have been the extent of institutional 
care of the insane in the United States before 1800. 

In one or two of these hospitals constructive efforts were made 
to alleviate the condition or promote the cure of insane patients, but 
in most cases secure confinement was the chief consideration. And 
only a small minority of the country's insane came into contact 
with any of these institutions. The rest were cared for, or neglected, 
in their homes, in the custody of hired keepers, or in jails and alms- 
houses as charges on the community. 

The first impetus toward a different attitude came from revolu- 
tionary France. An unassuming physician and classical scholar by 
the name of Philippe Pinel was appointed head of the hospital 
for the insane connected with L'Hopital Gn6ral of Paris. He found 
that the chronic insane were treated like animals, confined in box- 
like, dark, ill-ventilated cells, allowed few visitors, little clothing, no 
furnicure, and given the coarsest of food. At the slightest evidence 
of violence they were shackled to the walls of their cells with iron 
collars that permitted them little movement, and they were fortu- 
nate indeed if an especially humane keeper substituted wrist and 
ankle irons for the iron collars at night so that they might lie down 
upon their filthy pallets. Pinel and his head keeper, Pussin, deter- 
mined to see what a more humane treatment would accomplish. 


They selected a group of patients for whom they felt there was 
some possibility of cure, struck off their chains, cleaned and fed 
them properly, and gradually brought them back to some sem- 
blance of humanity. Encouraged by a number of real cures, Pinel 
published a book describing his work and announcing the results of 
his experimentation. His conclusion was startling for the day in 
which it was published: 

The insane are, after all, human. They are not animals. No matter 
what the church or the ignorant may say, they have not been cursed 
by the good Lord, and part of their bad behavior is due to the fact that 
they are not given a chance to develop as decent humans should. 9 

The insane man is not an inexplicable monster. He is but one of our- 
selves, only a little more so. Underneath his wildest paroxysms there is 
a germ, at least, of rationality and of personal accountability. To be- 
lieve in this, to seek for it, stimulate it, build it up here lies the only 
way of delivering him out of the fatal bondage in which he is held. 10 

An English Quaker, William Tuke, who apparently had never 
heard of Pinel, in 1796 built in York a private asylum called the Re- 
treat, where he carried on experiments similar to those of the French- 
man. Early in the nineteenth century Tuke published his findings 
in a book entitled A Description of the Retreat near York, and his 
work became widely known. A few years later two other English 
physicians established the Lincoln Asylum for the treatment of the 
insane on humane principles. In these institutions physical restraint 
was a last resort, and means of therapy were the subject of constant 
experiment. When in the United States the newly awakened social 
conscience undertook to improve the status of the insane, the new 
republic was but copying this movement initiated abroad. 

Dr. Benjamin Rush has been called the father of American psy- 
chiatry, for in the years after 1783 he tried out in the Philadelphia 
Hospital many of the new theories coming into vogue in France 
and England and added methods of his own in the treatment of in- 
sane patients. Rush rejected punishment, cruelty, and most forms 
of restraint and insisted that the keepers, or nurses, should be kind, 
that they should have adequate training, and that they should put 
forth every effort to improve the condition of the patients. Many 
of his ideas concerning treatment have not been accepted by modern 
medical practice, but no one can deny that he had a scientific ap- 
proach to the problem, or that his main objective was the better- 


ment of those in his care, He worked with problems of diet, with 
the relative value of bleeding and emetics, with various methods of 
water therapy, and with the effectiveness of physical shock in the 
treatment of violent or hysterical patients. He published in 1812 
the first treatise in America on the subject of mental diseases. 11 As 
much a pioneer as were Pinel and Tuke, Rush carried on his obser- 
vations and experiments over a long period of years and, more than 
any other man, aroused public opinion in America to the needs of 
the mentally afflicted. 

There was, however, an exchange of ideas across the seas, and 
internationalism in regard to experimentation ensured a hearing in 
America for the results of European efforts. An abridged edition of 
Tuke's Description* of the Retreat near York was brought out in 
the United States, and in the years after 1815, when American hu- 
manitarianism had got well under way, several similar hospitals 
were built: the Quaker Retreat near Philadelphia, founded as a pri- 
vate hospital in 1817, nonsectarian after 1834; the Bloomingdale 
Hospital in New York City in 182 1 with a Quaker, Thomas Eddy, 
as its guiding spirit and one of America's greatest students of mental 
diseases, Dr. Pliny Earle, as its chief physician; the McLean Asylum 
in Massachusetts in 1818, where Dr. Luther Bell instituted the Tuke 
system; the Retreat in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1824, soon to be 
recognized as a model institution; and a state asylum in Kentucky 
in the same year. Virginia built her second state hospital for the in- 
sane and South Carolina her first in 1828, and an asylum for the 
"furiously mad" was opened in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1836. 
Vermont, Ohio, Maine, and Pennsylvania had joined the group by 

Much of this activity in the care of the insane resulted from in- 
terest in the general problem of poor relief. -It was also connected 
with the movement for reform of penal institutions. In 1807 a law 
was passed in the state of New York authorizing state care for the 
insane poor "formerly lodged in jails and poor houses/' and in 1836 
the state lunatic asylum was built in Utica to house the patients 
taken over from county almshouses and jails. In the next decade 
New York made provision, also, for the care of the criminal insane. 
The same situation led to similar action in other states, although 
quite naturally changes were made first in states where increasing 


density of population intensified social problems and caused a grow- 
ing interest in them. 

The joy of the philanthropist and his optimistic view of the new 
institutions was reflected in the literature of the day. In an article 
entitled "What Shall We Do with the Insane?" one enthusiastic 
observer described the miracle he had witnessed in the hospital for 
the insane: 

Its patients were wholly of the pauper class. Its inmates are the worst 
and most hopeless class of cases; they are the raving madmen and the 
gibbering idiot, whom, in the language of the inspectors, we had for- 
merly seen "tearing their clothes amid cold, lacerating their bodies, 
contracting most filthy habits, without self-control, unable to restrain 
the worst feelings, endeavoring to injure those that approached them, 
giving vent to their irritation in the most passionate, profane, and filthy 
language, fearing and feared, hating and almost hated." Now they are 
all neatly clad by day, and comfortably lodged in separate rooms by 
night. They walk quietly, with self respect, along their spacious and 
airy halls, or sit in listening groups around the daily paper, or they dig 
in the garden, or handle edged tools, or stroll around the neighborhood 
with kind and careful attendants. They attend soberly and reverently 
upon religious exercises, and make glad music with their united voices. 12 

Foreign travelers wrote with equal enthusiasm about American 
success in curing the insane some of them even to the extent of 
asserting that more than ninety per cent of those treated were 
cured. 18 Only slowly did more scientific observation of a larger num- 
ber of cases over a longer period of years dim this first bright opti- 
mism. Later statistics failed to substantiate the claim of a committee 
reporting in 1832 to the Massachusetts legislature that "it is now 
abundantly demonstrated that with appropriate medical and moral 
treatment, insanity yields with more readiness than ordinary dis- 
eases." And disillusioned American medical men thirty years later 
were inclined to agree with Dr. Luther Bell that "when a man be- 
comes insane, he is about used up for this world." 14 It was doubtless 
an excellent thing that the work of the reformers was done mostly 
while the earlier optimism was prevalent and while visitors to Ameri- 
can institutions could write with so much assurance about the suc- 
cess of the new methods. 

It must not be forgotten, however, that the writers and travelers 
of the 1830'$ and 1840*5 were, whether they praised or condemned, 


describing the show spots of American institutional development. 
Great progress had been made and the era of neglect was over so 
far as the humanitarian, the scientist, and the enlightened citizen 
were concerned; but only a beginning had been made. There were 
many states as yet untouched by the reform movement. 15 Most of 
the hospitals built were small and they were soon overcrowded, some 
of them were private institutions with fees that excluded the poor, 
and few of them reached out for the insane who lived in rural areas. 
As late as 1840 a majority of the victims of insanity were still con- 
fined in private care, in locked rooms, cages, or outhouses, or in 
cells in jails and poorhouses neglected and mistreated as they had 
been for centuries. It was left for the passionate and crusading pity 
of one feeble but militant woman to force upon every state of the 
Union a recognition of its responsibility to its demented and men- 
tally ill citizens. 

Dorothea Dix had her roots in the same soil that produced Wil- 
liam Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, Susan B. Anthony, and the other 
fighters of her day. Her cultural growth had begun in the stern 
Calvinism of her grandmother's home but had flowered in the be- 
nign atmosphere of the friendship of Dr. Channing and the group 
that surrounded him. Her youthful days were filled with work and 
study and the constant annoyance of ill-health. A private school 
carried on in her own home provided her with a livelihood while 
she indefatigably pursued her avocation, the study of the natural 
sciences. She early displayed an interest in charitable work, open- 
ing an additional school in the barn for the poor children of the 
town. The attention of Dr. Channing was called to the courageous 
and brilliant young teacher, 2nd for some years she spent much of 
her time in his home as governess for his children. The incipient tu- 
berculosis that compelled her to give up her school was benefited 
by long months in his country home and still more by a season 
spent with his family in the Danish West Indies. Later the death of 
a relative provided her with a legacy that assured her support and 
made it unnecessary for her to teach again. But her inflexible con- 
science refused to permit her the ease of an inactive life. 

In 1841 she was asked by a shy young theological student to take 
a Sunday school class in the women's department of the House of 
Correction in East Cambridge. There among the prisoners she found 


a few insane persons confined in a dreary room that was not pro- 
vided with heat although the March day was terribly cold. Her 
sympathy aroused, Miss Dix began a campaign to improve the lot 
of these unfortunates she had seen, and she began to think about the 
plight of the thousands whose miserable existence- she could im- 
agine. Her search for aid led her to Samuel Gridley Howe and 
Charles Sumner. After they had made a careful investigation, Howe 
wrote articles demanding reform. The indignant denials of Massa- 
chusetts citizens brought the publication of a long letter from Sum- 
ner stating that Dr. Howe's reports presented a true picture of the 
conditions they had seen. Further aroused by this controversy, Miss 
Dix embarked upon a two-year investigation of all the jails and 
almshouses of the state, in order to draw up a complete report of 
the plight of the indigent insane. 

In 1843 she presented to the state legislature a memorial sum- 
marizing the conditions she had found. Beginning with the famous 
pledge, "I tell what I have seen," she proceeded to call attention 
"to the present state of insane persons confined within the Com- 
monwealth, in cages, closets, cellars,, stalls, fens! Chained, naked, 
beaten 'with rods, and lashed into obedience!" 16 The facts were ir- 
refutable, and they brought an instant reaction from the people 
of the state. The keepers of the institutions and the frugal repre- 
sentatives of the rural districts hurled charges of "sensational and 
slanderous lies." Dorothea Dix was accused of being a sentimental 
idealist and a snooping, interfering woman, but if her opponents ex- 
pected to silence her they misjudged their adversary. Backed by 
Dr. Howe, Horace Mann, and Dr. Luther Bell of the McLean Asy- 
lum, she stuck by her guns, providing the legislative committee, of 
which Dr. Howe was the chairman, with additional information, 
until the legislature appropriated funds to build a large addition to 
the Worcester hospital for the insane. 

The success of her efforts in Massachusetts was the beginning of 
a nationwide campaign for state-supported hospitals for the insane, 
for Miss Dix realized that the same conditions must be prevalent 
throughout the United States. Rhode Island was the scene for her 
next efforts. She used the same tactics of careful investigation, ac- 
cumulation of data, and concise, forceful report, and with the same 
result; a hospital for the insane was built in Providence. From Rhode 


Island she moved on to New Jersey, where in 1 845 the public-spirited 
men she had roused to action forced a bill through the legislature 
providing the hospital she had demanded. From New Jersey Miss 
Dix went on to Pennsylvania, and then west and south. Everywhere 
her tactics were the same. Always she maintained the "womanly 
dignity" demanded by mid-nineteenth-century canons; she never 
went before the legislature herself, and she always prepared the 
ground for her memorials by winning the support of a picked group 
of leaders, preferably men of all parries. Occasionally she was so 
bold as to consult with a dozen or more of these men in her board- 
inghouse. Her letters and conversation provided them with ammu- 
nition for the fight; indeed, she all but wrote their speeches. 

Between 1844 anc ^ ^5 4 this frail middle-aged woman traveled 
more than thirty thousand miles, visiting hundreds of prisons, alms- 
houses, jails, and hospitals, collecting data, preparing memorials, 
and arousing public opinion in behalf of her cause. "They say noth- 
ing can be done here," she wrote from North Carolina. "I reply, 'I 
know no such word in the vocabulary I adopt!"' And the same 
spirit was evident in a letter to the Massachusetts educator, George 
Emerson: "I encounter nothing which a determined will created by 
the necessities of the cause does not enable me to vanquish." So she 
drove herself onward; Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mis- 
sissippi, Missouri, North Carolina, the District of Columbia, Michi- 
gan, and Wisconsin, all responded to her appeal before 1860; others 
joined the ranks during or shortly after the Civil War. 

Oppressed by the magnitude of her task and convinced, as she 
told the North Carolina legislature, that she was "the Hope of the 
poor crazed beings. ... I am the Revelation of hundreds of wail- 
ing, suffering creatures," Miss Dix came to believe that she should 
solicit the aid of the national government. Since land grants had 
been given for educational purposes and were talked of for railroad 
building, she felt that Congress might well provide in the same way 
for national hospitals. Introduced in 1848, her bill won few sup- 
porters at first, because the Northern states were beginning the agi- 
tation for free homesteads and were averse to a policy of land grants 
and reserved sales. But Miss Dix returned to the fray again and 
again. In 1850 the bill passed the Senate but not the House; in 1854 
it passed both houses, only to receive the veto of President Pierce 


on the grounds that it was unwise for the national government to 
assume the support of the nation's poor and unconstitutional to make 
land grants for such a purpose. 

Crushed by this defeat and worn out by her ten years of hard 
work, Miss Dix went abroad for a rest in 1854. E vei * there she could 
not forget her cause but joined in the work for the insane in each 
country she visited. Returning home just as the United States was 
moving into the Civil War, she was at once involved in hospital 
work for the Union armies. After the war was over, she again 
turned to her 6wn crusade until age and weakness forced her re- 
tirement. A sentence from a letter by Dr. Charles Nichols of the 
Bloomingdale Hospital to an English friend may well serve as her 
epitaph: "There has died and been laid to rest in the most quiet, un- 
ostentatious way the most useful and distinguished woman America 
has yet produced." 1T 


The Temperance Crusade 

The men and women who were interested in prison reform and in 
the problem of poverty sought to find the causes of the conditions 
that had aroused their humanitarian zeal. They came to believe that 
man was often the victim of circumstances, that his mistakes and 
misfortunes were in part, at least, the result of his environment, 
and that the removal of the causes for his antisocial conduct was 
the best protection for both individual and society. Many who thus 
analyzed the social conditions of their day came to consider exces- 
sive drinking an important factor in the problems of delinquency 
and dependency. 

With characteristic optimism they set out to attack intemperance 
as well as to ease the conditions resulting from it. If these conditions 
could be improved, if poverty, crime, and insanity were curable, 
surely the fundamental stumbling block might be removed, and all 
society might benefit thereby. This optimism was, perhaps, accom- 
panied by the Puritan's interest in the personal life of his neighbor, 
an interest never long inactive in American history, even in those 
periods that seemed most tolerant. If excessive drinking appeared to 
be an evil that needed elimination, there were many who were will- 
ing to accept that elimination as a duty devolving upon all good citi- 
zens. Intemperance became not only a sin of the individual but a 
crime against society, the toleration of which made every citizen 
a party to it. 


Colonial literature and the accounts of travelers are full of refer- 
ences to the many varieties of beverages to be had and of the pub- 
lic's addiction to them. Nature was generous in the New World, 
and surplus grains and fruits could be turned into drinks to satisfy 
the palates and warm the hearts of those who could not afford the 
imported wines and brandies that graced the tables of wealthy mer- 
chants and planters. Cider was universally evident; wines and cor- 
dials were made from blackberries, grapes, peaches, and cherries; and 
malt and brewed beverages were made from various grains. Substi- 



tutes were soon found for the commodities used in the manufacture 
of the liquid refreshment of the colonist's hard-drinking English 
forebears, and he found comfort in the concoctions thus produced. 

If barley be wanting to make into malt, 
We must be content and think it no fault, 
For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips, 
Of pumpkins, and parsnips, and walnut-tree chips. 1 

In the eighteenth century the doughty Puritans began to distill 
West Indian molasses, producing the rum that was soon the most 
popular of the more intoxicating beverages. So dependent were 
New Englanders upon their rum that one wag wrote of them, 

Their only wish and only prayer 

From the present world to the world to come 

Was a string of eels and a jug of rum. 2 

In other colonies whisky, made from surplus grains, took the place 
of rum or vied with it. Flip, made of beer, sugar, and rum, was given 
its distinctive flavor by the insertion of a hot poker. Mead, made 
from wild honey and water, mulled wine, cherry bounce, sling, 
mum, perry, punch, and toddy varied the liquid diet. Hops grew 
wild, and malt houses were soon provided, so that breweries were as 
common as distilleries. 

Taverns and public houses saved the traveler from the dire fate 
of drinking water. It was in the taproom of the tavern that local 
gossip was exchanged, affairs of state were discussed, views of men 
from different sections were aired, and policies of importance were 
formulated. Grog of one sort or another was as powerful an aid to 
the communication of ideas as was printer's ink. Those who were 
not travelers drank not only in the taproom but at their own tables 
and wherever groups congregated for work or social intercourse, 
their beverages varying with their tastes and the condition of their 

When the colonies became states there was little change in drink- 
ing habits. In his witty and racy but moral tale, The Drunkard's 
Looking Glass, "Parson" Mason Weems left for posterity a sample 
tavern bill of 1812: 

3 Mint-slings before breakfast, .25 .75 

i Breakfast 5 


9 Tumblers of grog before dinner, 121/2 1.12 1/2 

3 Glasses wine and bitters, 121/2.... 37 1/2 

Dinner and club 1.25 

2 Ticklers of French brandy, .25 50 

Segars 25 

Supper and wine 1.25 

$6.00 * 

In the rural districts men did not run up such long accounts, and 
the fare was not so varied or so expensive, but the quantities of in- 
toxicants imbibed were apparently as great. Horace Greeley re- 
ported that 

In iny childhood [in rural Vermont] there was no merry-making, there 
was no entertainment of relatives or friends, there was scarcely a casual 
gathering of two or three neighbors for an evening's social chat, with- 
out strong drink. Cider always, while it remained drinkable without 
severe contortion of visage; rum at seasons and on all occasions, were 
required and provided. No house or barn was raised without a boun- 
tiful supply of the latter, and generally of both. A wedding without 
"toddy," "flip," "sling," or "punch," with rum undisguised in abun- 
dance, would have been deemed a poor, mean affair, even among the 
penniless; while the more thrifty of course dispensed wine, brandy, and 
gin in profusion. Dancing almost the only pastime wherein the sexes 
jointly participated was always enlivened and stimulated by liquor. 
Militia training then rigidly enforced at least twice a year usually 
wound up with a drinking frolic at the village tavern. Election days 
were drinking days . . . and even funerals were regarded as inade- 
quately celebrated without the dispensing of spirituous consolation.* 

A barrel of cider per family per week was the average allotment for 
upstate Vermont, according to Greeley, who ended his description 
with the dry remark, "The pious probably drank more discreetly 
than the ungodly; but they all drank to their own satisfaction" 
determined by the toleration gained through years of consumption. 
The rum of New England was replaced by corn whisky on the 
frontier, and cider was produced wherever the apple tree grew. 
The famous Methodist revivalist, James Finley, struggled with the 
evils of drunkenness as he rode his circuit in the Ohio country in 
the first decades of the century. He found that "ardent spirits were 
used as a preventive of disease. It was also regarded as a necessary 
beverage. A house could not be raised, a field of wheat cut down, 


nor could there be a log rolling, a husking, a quilting, a wedding, or 
a funeral without the aid of alcohol." e 

Whisky was commodity money in the West. In Lexington, 
Kentucky, even church subscriptions were payable in whisky. In 
the hill districts, where roads were lacking and distances were great, 
corn went to market in a jug, and whisky was the only cash or bar- 
ter crop. The horrors of the drunken brawls in the crude and filthy 
taverns of the frontier were described with vivid detail by early 
travelers, and they made a profound impression on the hardy Meth- 
odist preacher, Peter Cartwright, who found it difficult to obtain 
accommodations where he could have rest and comfort without 
the din of drinking bouts. These roused his ire and led to an inter- 
vention that usually terminated his stay. 

In the South conditions were the same. The seaboard planters 
imported vast quantities of wine and brandy; the men of the back 
country drank corn whisky or, as in Georgia, locally made peach 
brandy. The author of a quaint old book on the early citizens of 
Georgia, saying that brandy making and selling were the most prof- 
itable of all employments, tells of a man named Micajah McGehee 
who was the first settler on the Broad River to plant a peach or- 
chard, and it netted him sixteen hundred dollars a year for many 
years. A considerable part of his product was for home use, but 

His constitution was so strong, that he battled with death, taking brandy 
until he was upwards of eighty years old. When he was young it took 
drinking all day to make him drunk. He became a member of the Meth- 
odist Church during the great religious excitement of 1809-1 1. He still 
contrived to get drunk. When he was spoken to about it, he said that 
the habit was so confirmed that he could not live without the free use 
of brandy. He was requested to say what quantity was necessary for 
his health. He agreed to try to limit himself to a quart a day, but the 
allowance failed to keep him alive. 6 

The clergy of the day were not, in Georgia or elsewhere, free 
from tastes similar to those of the aged Micajah. Frank comments 
on the amount of liquor consumed at the ordinations of ministers 
have preserved for us a complete picture of those solemn occasions. 
One especially good beer was known as Ordination Brew. Tavern 
bills and church records all bear witness to the cost of the liquid 
refreshment for such ceremonies, but it was long before there was 


any comment that the expenditure was anything other than an ordi- 
nary and necessary one. In 1729 the Reverend Edwin Jackson was 
ordained in Pennsylvania at an expense to the parish of twenty- 
three pounds sterling for "6 barrels and one half of Cyder, 28 gal- 
lons of wine, 2 gallons of Brandy and 4 of Rum, Loaf Sugar, Lime 
Juice and Pipes." The ball after the ceremonies was one "of much 
expense." 7 

The persistence of these customs is apparent in the fact that 
nearly one hundred years later the Reverend Leonard Bacon was 
installed in the First Congregational Church of New Haven, Con- 
necticut, in an impressive service after which free drinks were fur- 
nished at a near-by bar to all who chose to order them and were 
"settled for" by the church. 8 


In the midst of this general acceptance of hard drinking the 
cause of temperance began to gain adherents. Colonial courts had 
condemned drunkards to the stocks or had placarded them with the 
letter D to be worn publicly for a stated period. The colonial and 
early state legislatures passed innumerable laws to regulate the grant- 
ing of licenses for the sale of intoxicants, in an effort to keep the 
traffic in the hands of "responsible and respectable persons." And 
the Continental Congress, during the Revolution, issued a manifesto 
against the increasing evil of strong drink: 

Resolved, that it be recommended to the several Legislatures of the 
United States immediately to pass laws the most effectual for putting 
an immediate stop to the pernicious practice of distilling grain, by 
which the most extensive evils are likely to be derived, if not quickly 

To this plea only New Hampshire replied, however, and she with 
only a general condemnation of intemperance. 

After the Revolution the interest in temperance increased, and 
the figures of the early census reports on the importation and manu- 
facture of intoxicants were widely quoted. It was estimated that the 
consumption of spirits in 1792 was two and a half gallons per per- 
son; in 1810, four and a half gallons; and in 1823, seven and a 
half gallons. Those who had confidently asserted that the excessive 
drinking was due to the long periods of war in the eighteenth cen- 


tury were confounded by the fact that the consumption of intoxi- 
cants increased even more rapidly in the years of peace after the 
Revolution. The excise tax of 1791 was commended as a move in 
the direction of limiting consumption, and its removal a decade later 
was loudly deplored on moral grounds. Petitions were sent to Con- 
gress requesting high tariffs on imported liquors. It was noted with 
disapproval that there were more wet than dry goods in country 
stores and that all grocers had a barrel on tap, both for sale and 
for treating those who made purchases. 

Protest groups were many but scattered. The philanthropist and 
propagandist, Anthony Benezet, with some success exhorted the 
Quakers of Pennsylvania to put their, stamp of disapproval upon 
the use of intoxicants. In 1780 the General Conference of the Meth- 
odist Church in America disapproved both the making and the 
drinking of distilled liquors, and the Methodists carried the torch 
of temperance reform wherever their preachers rode circuit. Every- 
where he went, the itinerant Bishop Asbury spoke emphatically 
against intemperance and the "Demon Rum." James Finley asserted 
that in the West all who refused to drink were called, by way of 
reproach, Methodist fanatics, and that many of his congregations 
shouted him down when he broached the subject of temperance. In 
Massachusetts the Reverend Ebenezer Sparhawk deplored the waste 
of money involved in drinking, the deleterious effect upon the 
health of the consumer, and the ruin of his immortal soul. His de- 
scription of the effects of rum was vivid if not accurate: 

[It] puts the blood and juices into a most terrible ferment, and disturbs 
the whole animal economy. It vitiates the humor, relaxes the solids, 
spoils the constitution, fills the body with diseases, brings on meager 
looks, a ghastly countenance, and very bad tremblings; yea, when the 
abuse of it is persisted in, it quite ruins the health, destroys the strength, 
introduces decay of nature, and hastens death faster than hard labour. 8 

At Yale College at the turn of the century, Timothy Dwight ex- 
horted his students to sobriety as well as to Federalism and godliness 
as attributes of useful and praiseworthy lives. 

Occasionally the laity joined in the move for reform. In 1789 a 
group of two hundred "respectable farmers" in Litchfield, Connect- 
icut, formed a temporary association "to encourage the disuse of 
spirituous liquors" and agreed not to use distilled spirits during the 


ensuing season. Isolated adherents of reform took personal or fam- 
ily pledges to abstain from intoxicants. Micajah Pendleton of Vir- 
ginia took such a pledge in 1800, and thus started this peculiarly 
individualist movement. 10 

Occasionally groups of men interested in temperance banded to- 
gether to further the cause. A physician in the little town of Moreau 
in upstate New York became alarmed at the effects of drunkenness 
on the health and morals of the families of the lumberjacks who 
made up a large part of the town's population. He persuaded the 
local minister to act with him, and together they won over a group 
of their fellow townsmen and organized a little temperance society 
pledged to use no distilled liquors and to work for restrictions on 
their use among the laboring classes. This Moreau society, founded 
in 1808, had the distinction of being the first in America, but it was 
premature, and its appeal to the public through the speeches and 
pamphlets of its members brought little response. Its form of organ- 
ization, however, and its pledge and propaganda tactics were to be 
characteristic of the crusade that began more than a decade later. 


Through the whole period from the Revolution to 1815, Dr. 
Benjamin Rush was the center of the agitation for temperance. His 
Inquiry into the Effect of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Mind 
and Body went through eight editions in those years, and the Ameri- 
can Tract Society alone printed one hundred and seventy-two thou- 
sand copies beforeyiSjo. The first part of the brochure dealt with 
the effects of ardent spirits on the novice drinker and on the habit- 
ual user. Rush described their effect on the mind, the property, and 
the social status of the excessive user, analyzed the arguments in 
favor of their use, and listed the few cases where he thought they 
might be taken in safety. The second part of the book reviewed the 
substitutes for harmful spirits, recommending cider, beer, wines, 
tobacco, and coffee. Part three went more deeply into the reasons 
for excessive drinking and into alternatives and remedies, and ended 
in alarming statistics of mortality and an appeal for temperance. 

The language of the pamphlet was forceful, its illustrative mate- 
rial dramatic, and its descriptions vivid. There is no doubt that it 
made many converts. In 1790 the College of Physicians and Sur- 


geons of Philadelphia, of which Rush was a member, sent a me- 
morial to Congress stating that 

... the habitual use of distilled spirits, in any case whatever, is wholly 
unnecessary; that they neither fortify the body against the morbid ef- 
fects of heat or cold, nor render labour more easy or productive; and 
that there are many articles of diet which are not only safe and per- 
fectly salutary, but preferable to distilled spirits, for the above men- 
tioned purposes. 11 

Later temperance leaders often acknowledged their indebtedness to 
Dr. Rush and reprinted his Inquiry as a part of their propaganda. 
Rush himself regarded this tract as only a part of his work for the 
cause. He spoke before religious conventions, wrote memorials to 
the legislature of Pennsylvania, and sought to enlist other philan- 
thropists in the work of reform. 

Jeremy Belknap of New England and David Ramsay of South 
Carolina worked with Rush in the cause of temperance and corre- 
sponded with him for many years on conditions in their respective 
areas. The pictures they drew were pessimistic in the extreme and 
serve to counterbalance the optimism of the energetic doctor. 12 

Parson Weems joined this moderate work of reform in 18 1 2 with 
his Drunkard's Looking Glass. This urbane if slightly ribald treatise 
was full of benevolent advice as to how to compromise between 
appetite and self-interest. Weems's "Golden Receipts against Drunk- 
enness" run as follows: 

1. Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's 
sake. Also cyder, ale, beer, etc. 

2. Never fight duels. Nine times in ten memory of the murdered 
drives the murderer to the bottle. 

3. Never marry but for love. Hatred is repellent; and the husband 
saunters to the tavern. 

4. Provide against old Bachelorism. Age wants comfort, and a good 
wife is the second best in the universe. 

5. Never stand surety for a sum that would embarrass you. And if 
you want, suffer a little rather than borrow, and starve than not pay; 
for debts and duns have filled the world with sots. 

6. Hot coffee in the morning is a good cure for dram-craving. And 
a civic crown to him who will set the fashion of Coffee at dinner. 18 

Temperance and not abstinence, self-control and not self-denial, 
was the objective of those who were initiating the movement. Spir- 


ituous liquors were condemned as misused and harmful, but bever- 
ages of smaller alcoholic content were tolerated and, indeed, were 
recommended as substitutes. The economic and social results of ex- 
cessive drinking were emphasized, and men were urged to consult 
their own interests in controlling their drinking habits. It was only 
among the clergy that the cause of temperance had assumed any of 
the aspects of a crusade. And it is difficult to discover much of 
organization or fanaticism even with them. Certainly there was 
nothing of the crusader in Parson Weems. Before 1810 only the 
Methodists and the Society of Friends had put the mark of disap- 
proval upon ardent spirits, and the action of these sects had been in 
the nature of recommendations and pastoral urging rather than di- 
rect command or threat of purge. 


The origins of the real crusade for temperance were connected 
with the spread of revivalism in religion and with the advance of 
humanitarian reform in general. The crusade itself was to be insep- 
arable from the religious motif of the first half of the century, was 
to be fostered by the clergy, and was a part of the fundamental 
concern of those of revivalistic faith with the welfare of the souls 
of their fellow men. The idea of intemperance as a sin that must 
weigh upon the conscience of the temperate as well as upon the im- 
mortal soul of the drunkard is clearly apparent in a speech made by 
the Reverend John Pierpont before a temperance convention in 
Boston. He was urging the passage of a law to stop the liquor 

If I be willingly accessory to my brother's death, by a pistol or cord, the 
law holds me guilty; but guiltless if I mix his death drink in a cup. The 
halter is my reward if I bring him his death in a bowl of hemlock; if in 
a glass of spirits, I am rewarded with his purse. Yet who would not 
rather see his child die, by hemlock than by rum? The law raises me a 
gallows if I set fire to my neighbor's house, though not a soul perish in 
die flames. But I may throw a torch into his household I may lead his 
children through a fire more consuming than Moloch's I may make 
his whole family a burnt offering upon the altar of Mammon, and the 
same law holds its shield between me and harm. 1 * 

The interest in temperance was also stimulated by the spread of 
manhood suffrage and the growth of democratic ideas. If all men 


were to be allowed to vote, obviously they should be able to cast 
their ballots wisely. Like Noah Webster's interest in education, the 
concern of Rush and his associates about the temperance question 
was increased by a sense of the necessity for an enlightened elector- 
ate. In 1811 Rush appeared before the General Association of the 
Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and delivered a plea for tem- 
perance because of its political effect. Rush spoke without partisan- 
ship. 15 Other men were concerned with the wisdom of the voter 
because they felt that sobriety would make him, more willing to 
listen to the counsel of his betters. The early temperance advocates 
of New England, for example, were so strongly Federalist in their 
political affiliations that Federalism and temperance became en- 
tangled in public thinking. 

Economic difficulties, too, played a part in spreading the interest 
in temperance. Beginning with the years of the Jeff ersonian Embargo 
Act, times were hard and all classes dependent in any way upon 
foreign commerce suffered. After the War of 1812 there were 
years of difficult readjustment, ending in a sharp panic in 1819 with 
the unemployment, foreclosures, and misery usually attendant upon 
depression periods. In 1818 the New York Society for the Preven- 
tion of Pauperism noted that there were sixteen hundred licensed 
grocery stores in the city dispensing liquor in small quantities and 
that the poor purchased grog as readily as groceries. Temper- 
ance men everywhere emphasized the connection between exces- 
sive drinking and pauperism. They urged stricter licensing laws, the 
regulation of sale to known drunkards, and the refusal of employers 
to give grog as part pay for work. 

Studies were made of the amount of spirits distilled and con- 
sumed and of the cost to the community of caring for the victims 
of excessive drinking. The report for the city of Albany, for ex- 
ample, gave the population as twenty thousand; the ardent spirits 
consumed, two hundred thousand gallons; the cost of such spir- 
its, one hundred thousand dollars; the number of habitual drunk- 
ards, five hundred, and of "tipplers," four -thousand. 16 The 1810 
census showed that fourteen thousand distilleries were producing 
twenty-five million gallons of spirits each year, ninety per cent of 
which was being consumed in the United States. If the price of such 
liquors is roughly estimated at fifty cents a gallon, a total of more 


than twelve million dollars was, in the view of the temperance advo- 
cates, wasted annually. And in the early nineteenth century that 
was more than the total annual expenditure of the national govern- 
ment. It may have been overoptimistic to assume that, if a man 
could be persuaded to give up intoxicants, he would spend his money 
for food and clothing for his family, but it was obvious that absti- 
nence would have a marked effect upon pauperism and doubtless 
upon the burden borne by the taxpayer. 

It was apparent, also, that the success of other reform movements 
depended to some extent upon the reduction of intemperance. Those 
who were working for the reformation of the criminal were struck 
by the correlation between drunkenness and crime. In 1833 a sur- 
vey of the six hundred and seventeen inmates of Auburn prison 
showed that two hundred had been grossly intemperate, more than 
two hundred and fifty moderately intemperate, one hundred and 
thirty-two temperate, and nineteen total abstainers. Three hundred 
and fifty had been under the influence of liquor when their crimes 
were committed. 17 Poorhouses, houses of refuge, workhouses, and 
reform schools were filled with the intemperate. When scientific 
study of insanity began, much, perhaps too much, emphasis was laid 
on die connection between intoxicants and mental derangement. 
Those who wished to achieve reforms in the field of education ' 
sought to protect the child from the evil consequences of the in- 
temperance of his parents. Juvenile delinquency was traced directly 
to surroundings whose sordidness was due to drink. 

The religious aspect was stressed more and more. It was asserted 
that the revival spirit was easier to arouse in regions where temper- 
ance advocates had been active; not only did the "new sobriety" 
help revivalism, but it also prevented backsliding. A Vermont re- 
vivalist noted that the number of conversions "differed little from 
the number that broke away from the iron bondage of custom and 
adopted the principle of abstinence," 18 and out on the frontier 
James Finley urged upon his converts the temperance pledge, at one 
time proudly reporting that a thousand people had signed the pledge 
during one revival. As the years went on, temperance came to be 
tied up with the millennial concept and with perfectionism. Surely 
Christ's second coming must be preceded by the elimination of the 
curse of drunkenness. William Miller himself urged abstinence upon 


his followers: "Behold the Bridegroom cometh! For your sou& 
sake drink not another draught, lest he come and find you drunE- 

en." 19 

In this general atmosphere of revivalism and reform it was inevit- 
able that the temperance movement, fathered by such men as Bene- 
zet and Rush, should become, as did other humane causes of the 
period, a crusade to be promulgated at all costs. It was equally in- 
evitable that its furtherance should fall, at first, into the hands of 
the clergy who were responsible for many of the other reforms and, 
in part, for the revivalism that lay behind them all. In a letter to 
Jeremy Belknap Dr. Rush said: 

From the influence of the Quakers and Methodists in checking this evil, 
I am disposed to believe that the business must be effected finally by 
religion alone. Human reason has been employed in vain. ... we have 
nothing to hope from the influence of law in making men wise and 
sober. Let these considerations lead us to address the heads of the gov- 
erning bodies of all the Churches in America. 20 

He did not call on the churches in vain. In 1811, after an ad- 
dress by Rush in person, the General Association of Presbyterian 
Churches officially deplored the prevalence of the "sin of drunk- 
enness." State associations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Ver- 
mont and the synods of New York and New Jersey took the same 
action. The fight for further reform was led by Lyman Beecher, 
whose interest in temperance had been aroused by reading Dr. Ben- 
jamin Rush's Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits. Beecher was 
particularly disturbed by the customary drinking among the clergy. 
After attending an ordination in Plymouth, Connecticut, he noted 
with disapproval that the 

. . . preparation for our creature comforts in the sitting room of Mr. 
Heart's house, besides food, was a broad sideboard covered with de- 
canters and bottles, and sugar and pitchers of water. There we found 
all the various kinds of liquors then in vogue. The drinking was appar- 
ently universal. This preparation was made by the society as a matter 
of course. When the Consociation arrived, they always took something 
to drink round; also before public services, and always on their return. 
As they could not all drink at once, they were obliged to stand and 
wait as people do when they go to mill. 

There was a decanter of spirits also on the dinner-table, to help di- 
gestion, and the gentlemen partook of it through the afternoon and 
evening as they felt the need, some more and some less; and the side- 


board, with the spillings of water, and sugar, and liquor, looked and 
smelled like the bar of a very active grog-shop. None of the Consocia- 
tion were drunk; but that there was not, at times, a considerable amount 
of exhilaration, I can not affirm. 21 

Evidently Beecher was not the only one to disapprove, for shortly 
after this ordination a committee was appointed by the General 
Association to investigate the drinking habits of the clergy and to 
suggest remedies. The committee's report in 1812 was extremely 
cautious, declaring only that intemperance had for some time been 
increasing but that "after the most faithful and prayerful inquiry, 
they were obliged to confess they did not perceive that anything 
could be done." This defeatist attitude roused the dynamic Beecher 
to action, and he demanded a new committee of inquiry. 

The report of this second committee, of which Beecher was 
chairman, may be considered the inauguration of the temperance 
movement in New England. In brief, it recommended that all min- 
isters preach temperance sermons; that the clergy refrain from 
drinking at ecclesiastical meetings; that church members abstain 
from illegal sale or purchase of spirituous liquors and discipline 
themselves in their consumption; that parents cease the use of ar- 
dent spirits in their homes; that additional compensation be given to 
workmen, if necessary, in place of the usual rations of cider or rum; 
that the church undertake the circulation of temperance literature; 
and that the ministry foster voluntary associations to work for tem- 
perance. Above all, adjured Beecher, they must not assume that 
nothing could be done: 

Is it impossible for God to reform and save us? Has He made known 
His purpose to give us over to destruction? Has He been accustomed 
to withhold His blessing from humble efforts made to rescue men from 
the dominion of sin? . . . Immense evils, we are persuaded, afflict com- 
munities, not because they are incurable, but because they are toler- 
ated, and great good remains often unaccomplished merely because it 
is not attempted. 22 

In 1816 the General Conference of the Methodist Church swung 
that denomination somewhat into line with Beecher's committee by 
passing a resolution first introduced four years before: "Resolved, 
that no stationed or local preacher shall retail spirituous or malt 
liquors without forfeiting his ministerial character among us." 


The New England clergy responded to the summons. Ordina- 
tions were no longer disgraced by the effects of ardent spirits, and 
many ministers gave up drinking entirely and began preaching the 
virtues of temperance. The Reverend Heman Humphrey, later to 
be the president of Amherst College, began his career as a temper- 
ance orator with a series of sermons in 1813. Dr. Justin Edwards of 
Andover Theological Seminary followed suit in 1814 and came out 
in favor of total abstinence a few years later. 

The results of such sermons were varied; some congregations or- 
ganized local temperance groups, others protested against the radi- 
calism of their ministers. After a fervent temperance sermon, one 
Massachusetts pastor, for example, found that a barrel of rum had 
been deposited on the steps of his church as a silent expression of 
the disapproval of some of his flock. Out on the Western frontier 
Peter Cartwright, in endeavoring to get rid of the hard-drinking 
preachers on his circuit, had difficulty in securing non-"dram- 
drinkers" for the committees to vote their expulsion. He told of one 
case in which a popular but inebriated preacher was followed out 
of the church by thirteen of his loyal friends. The church was hope- 
lessly split on the issue until the day was saved by a glorious revival 
in which the recalcitrant thirteen and at least forty more sinners 
came into the fold. The poor preacher, alas, was unregenerate and 
"lived and died a drunkard." 2S 

Out of the interest of the Congregational and Presbyterian 
churches in Massachusetts came a call for a state convention, which 
was held in Boston in 1813. The result was the creation of the 
Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance, which 
had as its guiding spirits such leading Calvinistic preachers as Jedi- 
diah Morse and Eliphalet Porter. Similar societies were established 
elsewhere, and committees of correspondence were appointed to 
maintain contacts between them. 

There was not as yet much emphasis upon abstinence. Wine was 
used freely at the meetings of the Massachusetts society, and a 
brewery was built in Boston to aid in the battle on. rum when it 
was discovered that the city had one licensed grogshop for every 
twenty-one males sixteen years of age or older. Some societies re- 
quired no pledge, others asked only abstinence from "too free" or 


immoderate use, while one Maine society bound the members who 
so far forgot their commitments to temperance as to get drunk, to 
"treat all round." 2 * 

Advocating only halfway measures, never enlisting many to their 
standard, these early temperance societies were not very effective. 
Those who were most earnest in the cause were the first to admit 
their failure and to acknowledge that more and more spirituous liq- 
uors were being consumed each year. They sadly agreed with 
Lyman Beecher: "Intemperance is the sin of our land and with our 
boundless prosperity is coming in upon us like a flood." 

It was not only American observers who were alarmed. Travel- 
ers of various nations commented upon the prevalence of drunken- 
ness in all sections of the country and marveled at the amount 
of hard liquor Americans could consume. Harriet Martineau was 
puzzled by the question, never satisfactorily answered, of how the 
vice ever reached the proportions it did 

... in a country where there is no excuse of want on the one hand, 
or of habits of conviviality on the other. . . . Certain it is [however] 
that the vice threatened to poison society. It was as remarkable as licen- 
tiousness of other kinds ever was in Paris, or at Vienna. Men who 
doubted the goodness of the principle of Association in opposition to 
moral evil, were yet carried away to countenance it by seeing nothing 
else that was to be done. 25 

It must be admitted, however, that there was an occasional dis- 
senting voice. James Stuart, for example, who spent three years in 
America, asserted that, although there was a great consumption of 
spirits, he had seen few drunken persons fewer than a dozen in all 
three years. 26 But certainly Stuart saw nothing in the late 1 820*8 to 
indicate that the early temperance movement had produced results 
worth noting. 


From these humble beginnings came the temperance crusade that 
swept over the country in the years after 1825, attracting more 
than a million followers organized in a movement that was to fur- 
nish a model for pressure groups. The battle cry of this new phase 
of the movement was total abstinence, not just moderation, and this 
abstinence was to be secured by close organization, constant propa- 
ganda, and definite pledges. The methods were to be those of the 


revivalists, and the organization was to devolve upon workers closely- 
connected with the churches. 

The campaign began with a series of sermons and articles whose 
definite purpose was to state the case for abstinence. Dr. Justin 
Edwards of Andover led the way. In 1816 and again in 1822 his 
sermons on the subject attracted attention, and in 1825 he published 
a tract called The Well-Conducted Farm which urged abstinence 
upon farm laborers on both moral and economic grounds. Calvin 
Chapin, who visited the Western Reserve in Ohio in 1825, came 
back oppressed by the evils of intemperance in that region and pub- 
lished an article to prove that "abstinence from ardent spirits is the 
only certain preventive of intemperance." And in the autumn of 
1825 Lyman Beecher preached a series of six sermons advocating 
total abstinence. 

Once more Beecher's action was decisive, and his arguments 
were quoted wherever men of like opinion got together. He put the 
responsibility squarely upon the moderate and temperate and placed 
his reliance on moral principles and moral suasion: 

What then [said he] is this universal, natural, and national remedy for 
intemperance? It is the banishment of ardent spirits from the list of 
lawful objects of commerce by a correct and efficient public sentiment, 
such as has turned slavery out of half of our land and will yet expel it 
from the world. 

It is the buyers who have created the demand for ardent spirits and 
made distillation and importation a gainful traffic; and it is the custom 
of the temperate, too, which inundates the land with the occasion of so 
much and such unmanageable temptation. Let the temperate cease to 
buy, and the demand for ardent spirits will fall in the market three- 
fourths, and ultimately will fail wholly, as the generation of drunkards 
shall hasten out of time. . . . Let the consumer do his duty, and the 
capitalist, finding his employment unproductive, will quickly discover 
other channels of useful enterprise. . . . This, however, can not be 
done effectually so long as the traffic in ardent spirits is regarded as 
lawful, and is patronized by men of reputation and moral worth in the 
land. Like slavery, it must be regarded as sinful, impolitic, and dishon- 
orable. That no measures will avail short of rendering ardent spirits a 
contraband of trade is nearly self-evident. 27 

Beecher's position was supported by clergy and laymen in all 
parts of the country, and the publication in 1826 of his Six Sermons 
was followed by a number of pamphlets carrying his arguments still 


further. In 1828 Dr. Heman Humphrey, president of Amherst Col- 
lege, delivered a Fourth of July address which he called "A Parallel 
Between Intemperance and the Slave Trade." Slavery and not in- 
dependence was his theme, he said, for "after the lapse of nearly 
fifty years of undisputed political freedom, the blood-freezing clank 
of a cruel bondage is still heard amid our loudest rejoicing"; and 
that bondage was the thralldom of intemperance. After a lurid de- 
scription of the African slave trade and its infamous Middle Passage, 
Humphrey concluded with a still more unpleasant picture of the 
poverty, insanity, and other horrors attendant upon drunkenness. 

As the movement gained ground, other college presidents came 
to its aid. The Reverend Eliphalet Nott of Union College was a 
doughty adherent of the cause and his Lectures on Bible Temper- 
ance, published in 1847, were a notable addition to its literature. 
President Appleton of Bowdoin College was a leader of the move- 
ment in Maine; Presidents Lord of Dartmouth, Mark Hopkins of 
Williams, Wayland of Brown, and Day of Yale all added their in- 
fluence. Dr. William Ellery Channing and Dr, Theodore Parker 
both came over to the cause and preached temperance sermons, al- 
though it was with reluctance that they accepted the coercive meas- 
ures of the later phases of the movement. 28 

In February 1826, at the call of Dr. Justin Edwards, a group of 
men working with him both on the foreign mission board and in 
the American Tract Society came together in Boston and drew up 
a constitution for a new organization to be called the American So- 
ciety for the Promotion of Temperance. Seven of the sixteen men 
who signed the document were clergymen, and the society it set 
up was modeled on the American Board of Commissioners for For- 
eign Missions. It was a militant organization; the clergy and laymen 
who sponsored it were able and determined men, and they were 
skilled in all the arts of argument, emotional appeal, and propa- 
ganda. They used revivalistic methods, maintained paid secretaries 
or campaign managers, sent lecturers throughout the country, kept 
up a lively press campaign, and published countless pamphlets and 
a series of temperance periodicals, of which the Journal of Human- 
ity was one of the more important. 29 Prize essay contests were con- 
ducted with much publicity, and the winning manuscripts were 
printed and circulated as propaganda literature. The campaign was 


educational as well as emotional; men were to be convinced not 
only that drinking was a sin, but also that it was deleterious to the 
individual and society. 

The society held frequent meetings, with each annual meeting in 
February a gala event. The reports of the society, published annu- 
ally during its ten years of vigor, were a mine of information to the 
worker in the field and a source of inspiration and material for ar- 
gument for temperance advocates everywhere. They included let- 
ters, personal experiences, treatises on the ill effects of intemperance, 
reports on the progress of the movement, and tables and illustrative 
material of various sorts. 80 

All the propaganda was directed toward the signing of a pledge 
promising total abstinence from spirituous liquors, and preachers 
and lecturers urged the pledge upon everyone in their audiences 
whether or not the individual was a consumer of such beverages. It 
was proudly asserted in 1835 that three thousand ministers had 
signed the pledge, and, doubtless, there were many more women 
signers. Sunday schools were impressed into service, schoolteach- 
ers were encouraged to extol the merits of temperance, and children 
were warned of the dangers of drink. Medical societies were urged 
to endorse the campaign, and hundreds of doctors were persuaded 
to sign statements condemning distilled liquors. 

The effectiveness of the campaign was soon evidenced by the in- 
crease in the number of temperance societies, and the generalship 
of the leaders was shown in their methods and forms of organiza- 
tion. These local groups were not sporadic, isolated phenomena; 
they were units or cells in a well-regulated system. Local societies 
were grouped into state units, delegates were sent from local meet- 
ings to state conventions, and from there to the annual meetings 
of the parent society. Agents and missionaries were the advance 
guard in regions where organization had not yet been effected, and 
older societies fostered the movement in near-by areas. By 1829 
there were one thousand local units with a membership of one hun- 
dred thousand; two years later the numbers had doubled, and there 
were nineteen state societies; by 1 83 3 the national society announced 
four thousand locals and a total membership of half a million, and a 
year later five thousand societies with a million members. The 
movement was strongest in New England, New York, and Pennsyl- 


vania, with a large membership in the Old Northwest. South of 
Mason and Dixon's line there were societies in every state, the 
strongest in Virginia and Georgia, but the number of members was 
small and only fifteen thousand in the whole South pledged total 
abstinence from distilled liquors. 

From the beginning there were attempts in the several states to 
organize legislative temperance societies more, it seems, for pur- 
poses of prestige than to procure legislation favoring temperance. 81 
In 1832 the movement spread to Congress, where it was backed by 
Felix Grundy of Tennessee, Lewis Cass of Michigan, and Theodore 
Frelinghuysen of New Jersey. The objective of the Congressional 
society formed in February 1833, was to discountenance the use of, 
and the traffic in, spirituous liquor "by example and by kind moral 
influence." 32 There is little evidence that legislators were induced 
to join these societies or to sign the pledge by threats of loss of 
votes, but compliance with the wishes of a strong and very vocal 
group of voters was undoubtedly a matter of policy with some can- 
didates for office. They were urged to put themselves on record as 
supporting this crusade on the grounds that it would be a national 
disgrace if the United States should falter in maintaining its high 
standards and its moral leadership. The nations of the world, it was 
said, were watching the temperance movement in the United States 
and were ready to imitate the example it set. 

From 1826 to 1833 progress was steady, and the success of the 
movement seemed assured. Local societies pointed with pride to 
the way housewives boycotted grocery stores that sold intoxicants, 
to the lessening number of grogshops, and to the business failures of 
distillery owners. 88 Temperance hotels were built to accommodate 
a traveling public that disapproved of drink, and college commence- 
ments came to be solemn rather than hilarious occasions. Horace 
Mann in the North and Thomas S. Grimk6 in the South interested 
themselves in young men's temperance societies. College men were 
prevailed upon to organize; Amherst was enthusiastically "dry" 
from the first with three fourths of the students enrolled. Dart- 
mouth had a society in 1828, and out in Ohio Oberlin boasted a 
strong coeducational temperance organization. 

With so much accomplished, it was, perhaps, inevitable that the 
enthusiasts should presume too far and ask too much. If abstinence 


from distilled liquors was a prerequisite for temperance, why should 
the use of fermented drinks be tolerated when they, too, were in- 
toxicant, though only slightly so, and were, besides, conducive to 
heavier drinking? And again, if those whose moral and civic sense 
was acute joined societies and signed pledges voluntarily, there were 
still countless thousands whose temperance could be guaranteed 
only by coercive means. Should they be permitted to block the 
moral crusade and render the successes already obtained mere half- 
way measures? At the height of the movement's success it foundered 
on these rocks of thoroughness and immediatism issues that were 
also troubling the peace and abolition societies in the same period. 


'The American Temperance Society was the strongest of the 
temperance organizations and, through its many branches, the one 
most closely in contact with the rank and file of workers in the 
cause. Many societies, however, did not owe their existence to it, 
and its influence in some states was negligible. It seemed to many 
temperance advocates that the common cause could best be fur- 
thered by uniting the various groups and coordinating their pro- 
grams and objectives. The executive committee of the American 
Temperance Society, therefore, took the initiative and issued a call 
for a convention of delegates from all county and state groups to 
meet in Philadelphia in May 1833. 

It was with the greatest optimism that the leaders faced the four 
hundred and more representatives of organizations in twenty-one 
states, but the first general discussion revealed the fundamental dif- 
ferences of opinion and temperament represented at the conven- 

One of the first questions to be settled was the type of pledge to 
be required of members of the new united society. A conservative 
minority was opposed to any pledge of abstinence and advocated 
permitting a temperate use of intoxicants. A radical minority wished 
to broaden the abstinence clause of the customary pledge to include 
malt and fermented liquors as well as ardent spirits.^ Both groups 
had considerable backing, and both could quote authorities and prec- 
edents. In the Massachusetts state society, for example, no definite 
pledge had been required up to 1833, and total abstinence had not 
been advocated. In the New York society, on the other hand, there 


were strong leaders who were ready to demand abstinence from "all 
that intoxicates," regardless of the amount of alcohol in the bever- 
age or of the process by which it was made. Gerrit Smith, member 
of the wealthy landed gentry and owner of the Peterboro Temper- 
ance Hotel, E. C. Delavan, an upstate merchant who had already 
been sued for libel by the Albany brewers for his assertion that 
contaminated river water was used in their product, and Arthur 
Tappan, New York City merchant, publisher, and philanthropist, 
who even advocated the use of unf ermented grape juice for sacra- 
mental purposes, were all immediatists and believers in total absti- 
nenceand Gerrit Smith was a leading member of the steering 
committee of the convention. 

Nonetheless it was soon apparent that the majority of the con- 
vention would accept nothing more stringent than a pledge to ab- 
stain from the consumption of ardent spirits, and the New York 
ultras were silenced temporarily on that phase of the agenda. They 
came back into the fray in a bitter wrangle over the attitude of the 
new society toward the liquor traffic. With advocates of prohibition 
on the steering committee, it was inevitable that this matter should 
be discussed, and it was Gerrit Smith who introduced the resolu- 
tion that started the debate: 

Resolved, that in the opinion of this Convention, the traffic in ardent 
spirits, as a drink, is morally iwong; and that the inhabitants of cities, 
towns, and other local communities, should be permitted by law to pro- 
hibit the said traffic within their respective jurisdictions. 

This resolution was evidence that the temperance crusade had 
reached a dividing of the ways. Up to its introduction the emphasis 
had been upon the persuasion of the consumer; now the sin of the 
producer and retailer was to be stressed and legislative remedies 
were to be sought. The adoption of the resolution did not mean the 
end of the argument but merely transferred it to the state and 
local societies, and the words morally wrong became a slogan for 
the extremists. 

These acrimonious debates were ominous for future harmony, 
but in the main work of the convention the perfecting of a na- 
tional society there was little difficulty. It was decided that the 
Temperance Union should be a federation composed of the offi- 
cers of the American Temperance Society, the officers of the state 


societies, and representatives of various local organizations. The 
wealthy New York aristocrat, Stephen van Rensselaer, was chosen 
president, and an executive committee was named to direct propa- 
ganda, with a paid executive secretary to coordinate all activities. 8 * 

The first national convention of the new society was held in 
1836, when its name was changed to the American Temperance 
Union and its acceptance of the radical program was secured by a 
group of ultras led by Lyman Beecher, Justin Edwards, and Ed- 
ward Delavan. When the delegates went back to their state and lo- 
cal groups to fight for the acceptance of this program and a new 
ultra pledge, the temperance movement of the 1830'$ broke up into 
warring factions. The New York society refused to follow Del- 
avan's lead, and he resigned. Two thousand of the New York lo- 
cals did not adopt the new pledge. Ohio also split over the issue, 
with the temperance group losing ground to the "teetotal" advo- 
cates. When the ultras repudiated moral suasion and began a cam- 
paign for legislation, the dissension became still more acrimonious. 
The result was a vast decline in the whole movement. In New York, 
for instance, a membership of two hundred and twenty-nine thou- 
sand in 1836 dropped to one hundred and thirty-one thousand in 
1839. In Georgia the struggle was fatal to the state organization, for 
an ardent ultra, J9siah Flournoy, led a campaign for state prohibi- 
tion that so involved the state society in local politics that it could 
not recover from Flournoy's defeat. 

Other factors contributed to the decline of the movement in the 
late i83o's. Many of the temperance leaders William Lloyd Gar- 
rison, Gerrit Smith, and Arthur Tappan, for example were at the 
same time ardent abolitionists. Southern advocates of temperance 
came to identify the two reforms and to repudiate them both. 85 In 
the North, where abolitionism was frowned on in influential circles, 
the temperance movement suffered because of the common leader- 
ship. A public that did not condemn the antiabolitionists' destruction 
of Arthur Tappan's library and furniture could scarcely subscribe 
to his leadership of other reforms. The panic of 1837 and the long 
years of depression that followed it probably contributed to a de- 
cline in interest and support of this as well as of other reform 
movements although the arguments that excessive drinking was a 
major cause for poverty and that its diminution would ease the 


burden on the taxpayer may have been especially effective in a 
period of economic stringency. All in all, the years just before 1840 
were in marked contrast to the hopeful days of the early i83o's, 
and the temperance movement seemed destined to failure. 


Through twenty years of agitation by the advocates of temper- 
ance, every argument for it was aired, and every measure save na- 
tional prohibition was tried; when the crusade was again an issue 
in the early twentieth century the only new line of attack was the 
constitutional amendment. The evolution of argument and attitude 
from the reasoned moderation of Benjamin Rush to the Puritanic 
intolerance of Gerrit Smith was apparent in the pamphlet literature 
of the day. 

Arguing that moderate use precedes excessive consumption, an 
early pamphleteer followed Rush in condemning ardent spirits and 
offered figures on the amount and cost of drinking in support of 
his demands for the repeal of the licensing laws and for prohibitive 
duties on the importation of spirituous liquors. 86 A few years later 
Jonathan Kittredge of Lynne, New Hampshire, wrote an Address 
on the Effects of Ardent Spirits that gave a typical picture of the 
economic ruin and social degradation of the drunkard: 

[He] is useless, and worse than useless; he is a pest to all around him. 
All the feelings of his nature are blunted; he has lost all sharne; he pro- 
cures his accustomed supply of the poison that consumes him; he stag- 
gers through the mud, and through filth to his hut; he meets a weeping 
wife and starving children he abuses them, he tumbles into the straw, 
and he rolls and foams like a mad brute, till he is able to go again. He 
calls for more rum he repeats the scene from time to time, and from 
day to day, till soon his nature faints, and he becomes sober in death. 

And to this Kittredge added lurid word pictures of the death scenes 
of such victims: 


are killed instantly; some die a lingering, gradual death; some 

lit suicide in fits of intoxication; and some are actually burnt up. I 

read of an intemperate man, a few years since, whose breath caught fire 
by coming in contact with a lighted candle, and he was consumed. At 
the time I disbelieved this story, but my reading has furnished me with 
well authenticated cases of a combustion of the human body from the 
use of ardent spirits. . . . They are attended with all the proof one re- 



Illztstration for the temperance tract, The True History of Deacon Giles 1 
Distillery, by George Barrett Cheewer. The tract 'was in the form of a 
dream in which devils acted as workmen in the distillery and flayed a 
joke on the deacon by labeling the kegs of liquor with the effects of 
their contents. The labels became visible only upon the sale of the kegs, 
thus frightening off the purchasers. The tract caused a famous lawsuit 
in which a local deacon who owned a distillery was the complainant. 

quires to believe any event. I will state one of them, and from this an 
idea can be formed of the rest. It is the case of a woman eighty years of 
age, exceedingly meagre, who had drunk nothing but ardent spirits for 
several years. She was sitting in her elbow chair, while her waiting maid 
went out of the room for a few moments. On her return, seeing her 
mistress on fire, she immediately gave an alarm, and some people came 
to her assistance, one of them endeavored to extinguish the flames with 
his hands, but they adhered to them as if they had been dipped in 
brandy or oil on fire. Water was brought and thrown on the body in 
abundance, yet the flame appeared more violent, and was not extin- 
guished until the whole body was consumed. 

The idea that excessive use of ardent spirits made the body com- 
bustible was constantly reiterated, and the cases cited were always 
said to be "well authenticated" and were often accompanied by 
medical evidence. The American Temperance Magazine in 1851 



stated that cases "of the death of inebriates by internal flames kin- 
dled spontaneously" were so numerous and incontrovertible that 
"no person of information will question" them, and then proceeded 
to describe the last agonies of a man who was "literally roasted from 
the crown of his head to the soles of his feet," bathed in a flame that 
made him appear like the "wick of a candle in the midst of its own 
flame." From the pages of such temperance tracts this idea of spon- 
taneous combustion was lifted to contemporary fiction, and both 
English and American novelists described in detail deaths due to 
"internal fires." 87 

All arguments were not so lurid, however, and many pamphle- 
teers used medical evidence of a milder nature, accompanying it by 
appeals to civic and religious responsibility. 88 A certain Dr. Spring- 
water, "the Cold-Water Man," wrote on The Evils of Intemper- 
ance in 1832 with much rhetoric and much feeling. Intemperance, 
he said, wasted property, destroyed health, produced crime, led 
to poverty, murdered time, destroyed respectability, deteriorated 
moral feeling, and was a public evil. It was death to religious feel- 
ing, the destroyer of domestic happiness, and the murderer of the 
soul. Moderate drinking was worse than drunkenness, for it de- 
ceived the victim, supported the grogshop, set a bad example, weak- 
ened the human system so that disease might prey upon it, and 
eventually "whirled [the soul] to destruction." Dr. Springwater 
placed equal responsibility upon those who furnished the raw prod- 
ucts, those who manufactured the spirits, those who sold them, and 
those who consumed them. The only cure was total abstinence 
and the use of cold water. 

A novel sort of argument for total abstinence was offered by one 
Charles T. Woodman. He had been a restless, intemperate youth, in 
and out of jail, more often drunk than sober, but in 1842 he was 
won over to temperance and signed the pledge. His Narrative of a 
Reformed Inebriate is full of excellent descriptions of the alms- 
houses and workhouses in which he was often lodged, and the de- 
scriptions of his escapades alternate with doggerel verse on various 
subjects, the evils of drink predominating. Although a baker by 
trade, he worked in his sober intervals at whatever employment was 
offered him, and one of his temporary jobs was in a store where 
medicines and beverages were sold. As an argument against the use 


of all forms of intoxicants, he gave a long list of recipes for adulter- 
ating them and for producing any beverage ordered from those al- 
ready in stock. 89 

Edward C. Delavan, president of the New York society, was in- 
terested in exposing the adulteration of wines and the bad practices 
of manufacturers. He was the editor of a collection of twenty-four 
tracts entitled Temperance Essays and Selections from Different 
Authors, which ran into many editions. The matter of communion 
wine was of great concern to him and to Gerrit Smith and others of 
his friends, and he published various letters he had received on the 
subject. He quoted excerpts from the Lectures on Temperance of 
Dr. Eliphalet Nott of Union College, who was regarded as an au- 
thority on Scriptural drinking. Nott maintained that nine words in 
the Hebrew of the Old Testament had been translated into English 
by the single word wine but that their various meanings in the text 
could not be the same. Some meant a harmless drink, while others 
made wine a "mocker," or a "serpent's bite," or an "adder's sting." 
Therefore, he inferred, the Bible approved only unf ermented fruit 
juices, and he answered the troublesome questions about Christ's first 
miracle by insisting that the wine served at the marriage feast in 
Cana was unfermented. Delavan's collection also included reprints 
of Dr. Thomas SewalTs seven plates portraying the effects of alco- 
hol on the human stomach. These colored plates seem to have been 
the first of a long series of such illustrations designed to convince the 
healthy of the dangers of intemperance. 

Delavan also reprinted an essay by Bishop Alonzo Potter of Penn- 
sylvania on the Drinking Usages of Society. This essay was widely 
circulated and may be found in many pamphlet editions. Bishop 
Potter's appeal was to those who set the standards of custom and 
fashion, for, said he, "Fashion propagates itself downward," and the 
lower classes "take their tone from the upper." 

There, in the abodes of all the rich and admired; there, amidst all the 
enchantments of luxury and elegance; where friend pledges friend; 
where wine is invoked to lend new animation to gaiety, and impart 
new brilliancy to wit; in the sparkling glass, which is raised even by the 
hand of beautiful and lovely woman there is the most dangerous de- 
cay. . . . We do not regulate our watches more carefully or more 
universally by the town-clock, than do nine tenths of mankind take 
their tone from the residue, who occupy places towards which all are 


struggling. . . . Let the responsibility of these drinking usages be put, 
then, where it justly belongs, . . . Neither the power of law aimed at 
the traffic in liquors, nor the force of argument addressed to the under- 
standings and the consciences of the many, will ever prevail to cast out 
the fiend drunkenness, so long as they who are esteemed the favored 
few uphold with unyielding hand the practice of drinking. 40 

All told, the literature of the temperance advocates was extensive 
both in the number of tracts and in the total copies of each that 
were printed. The American Tract Society, the American Sunday 
School Union, and the American Temperance Union were the 
chief agencies for printing and distributing propaganda material, the 
Tract Society alone circulating about five million tracts and more 
than one hundred and fifty thousand volumes of greater length. 
Among these Dr. Rush's Inquiry, Edwards' Well-Conducted Farm, 
Kittredge's Address, and Humphrey's Dialogue on Ardent Spirits 
seem to have been the most popular, for from one to three hundred 
thousand copies were printed of each. 41 Throughout the period the 
periodicals devoted to the temperance cause were numerous, and 
their circulation was extensive. 


The opposition literature is less extensive but fully as varied. 
Harriet Martineau, writing at the time when ultraism was just 
beginning to prevail among temperance leaders, seems to have 
been the first to sound a note of warning. She said she had been told 
that the people of New England "did good by mania," and this 
phrase continually recurred to her as she studied the temperance 
movement. Man must, she felt, be virtuous in and by himself, and 
the principle of temperance was incommunicable, since no two 
men's temptations were alike. This was especially true in the case 
of drinking, she said, because the temptations of the advocates of tem- 
perance were immeasurably weaker than those of the masses to be 
wrought upon. There was, therefore, a "vast quantity of perjury, 
of false and hasty promising, of lapses, and of secret, solitary drink- 
ing." Hypocrisy was added to intemperance; schism developed out 
of the ignorance of bigots; and new and fatal perils arose to assail 
freedom of conscience. As a result, "the example of those who have 
not pledged themselves is the only one morally regarded; all other 
persons being known to be bound. Virtue under a vow has no spir- 


itual force." The temperance fanatic demanded a complete giving 
up of self-control and self-defense and the "subservience of con- 
science to control." The temperance societies were, Miss Martineau 
thought, created for weak minds and developed "spiritual subservi- 
ence" in their members. 42 

Bishop John Henry Hopkins of the Episcopal church in Ver- 
mont resented the claim that temperance had a religious aspect, and 
his The Primitive Church, published in 1836, contained many argu- 
ments against the alliance of religion and the temperance movement. 
The temperance societies, he said, were based on worldly prin- 
ciples; they opposed vice and attempted to establish virtue by meth- 
ods that were not in accord with the Word of God, and they gave 
false prominence to one particular vice, contrary to the doctrines 
of the Bible. To call temperance a prerequisite or preparation for 
church membership was "at war with the principles of the Gospel," 
and to assert that temperance could be relied upon as a remedy 
against vice was a denial of the religion of Christ. Nor was abstinence 
to be considered a measure of piety. 

Hopkins had the heartiest contempt for those advocates of the 
cold-water pledge who quibbled over the question of Scriptural 
drinking, and he noted with sarcasm the arguments about the mean- 
ing of the word wine in the Bible. It was strange, he said, that the 
apostles did not know of the distinction between the words mean- 
ing fermented and unfermented drinks, and that "they falsely rep- 
resented Christ as changing the water into wine, when they should 
have said that he changed it into a sort of grape jelly." 48 Such state- 
ments were trivial, he affirmed; the vital question was the loyalty of 
man to the church and to the teachings of Christ. "The outward ref- 
ormation of a single vice is nothing, when the heart remains un- 
sanctified and the curse of God still hangs upon the soul." 44 

Published in the same year as The Primitive Church, Calvin Col- 
ton's Protestant Jesuitism censured, not the combination of religion 
and temperance as advocated in the Revival Lectures of Charles G. 
Finney, but the attempts of nonpolitical voluntary associations to 
secure political power to effect their moral reforms. He condemned 
the attempt of a dominant minority to coerce a majority and as- 
serted that the trend of the temperance crusade and the abolition 
movement alike was toward the destruction of American liberties. 


Such movements were inquisitorial and hypocritical and were in the 
hands of bigots and fanatics, not reformers. 

Bishop Hopkins and Calvin Colton were both clergymen. David 
M. Reese brought science to their aid. In 1838 he published a gem of 
a book entitled The Humbugs of New York, being a Remonstrance 
against Popular Delusion, whether in Science, Philosophy or Reli- 
gion. It was a protest against all ultraism. Reese said that medical 
science could go no further with temperance reformers than to ad- 
vocate moderation in the use of ardent spirits. He had seen no evi- 
dence that wine, beer, and cider were harmful, and he felt that to 
call total abstinence a moral obligation was utterly unjustifiable. He 
called teetotalism a "senseless cognomen" and "ultra-temperance" a 
"reigning humbug." For those who included tobacco, tea, and cof- 
fee in their list of the causes for intemperance, Reese had only the 
heartiest contempt. Their ideas were delusions and impostures in 
short, humbugs! 46 

The most complete and carefully reasoned refutation of radical 
methods was the Review of the Late Temperance Movements in 
Massachusetts by the Reverend Leonard Withington, published in 
1840. He protested against all use of what he called "the absolute 
shall." He did not believe in the efficacy of pledges or of coercive 
societies and feared the American tendency to follow emotional ap- 

We love excitement; the appetite is increasing upon us; we are a pecu- 
liar nation. Some people, I have no doubt, have such a craving for 
anti-ism, for some party to follow, or some object to oppose; that if 
you could translate them into the bowers of Paradise, beneath the very 
shadow of the tree of life, their gloomy imagination would conjure up 
some phantom of evil, some giant of corruption, whom they must op- 
pose with the zeal of holy hatred, and conquer by the arms of party 
strife. They could not sing the songs of Sion but in the chorus of a 
faction. 46 

It was impossible, Withington said, to draw a prohibition law 
that would not be full of inconsistencies and would not divide com- 
munities and call forth spies and lawbreakers. And laws that could 
not be executed were worse than useless, for they would cause a 
lessening of respect for the government and a disregard for all law. 

Withington insisted that sumptuary laws were of no avail, for 
they were "straws to the whirlwinds," and that reformers had never 


been effective in stopping other sins by coercive measures. Lying, 
cheating, fraud, and perjury "still stalk through the land," "delusion 
still infests our politics," and "pleasure and licentiousness still reign 
over our cities." Drunkenness cannot be exterminated any more 
than other sins until "God blesses his Gospel, and a better day 
dawns on the world." Withington did not despair, however. 

The way to promote temperance is very obvious [he wrote]. The child 
may find it. In the first place, be consistent in your precept and ex- 
ample; be a temperate man yourself; and rely for your influence on the 
evangelical weapons of light and love. Trace the evil to its cause and 
endeavor to remove it. Remember that some are drunkards because they 
are poor; some because they are idle; some because they are disap- 
pointed; some because they are ignorant; some from an unhappy nerv- 
ous system; and all because they are not Christians. Reflect that there 
are indirect as well as direct efforts to oppose this evil; and that some- 
times the indirect efforts are the most effectual Is a man idle, endeavor 
to employ him; is he ignorant, instruct him; is he disappointed, point 
him to the true source of consolation; and above all things beware how 
you lord it over his faults, or play the Pharisee over his vices. Recollect 
that intemperance is seldom an insulated vice; it grows up in wide com- 
binations; and you are never fitted to engage in the subject of reforming 
it until you have sounded the depths from which it springs. . . . Very 
little good has ever been done by the absolute shall 47 


Whether or not the counsel of such men as Withington would 
have prevailed if there had been no sudden upsurge of interest in 
the cause, it is impossible to state. The subsidence of crusading zeal 
was of short duration, and the year that saw the publication of his 
plea for moderation was also the year of a revival of interest in the 
movement a revival that was extremely emotional and dramatic. 

Until 1840 temperance propaganda had been directed toward 
educating the public in the evils resulting from the use of intoxi- 
cants and toward arousing a feeling that the manufacture, sale, or 
use of such beverages was morally wrong. The temperance societies 
had been mainly concerned with the future of moderate drinkers 
and of those who had not yet become drinkers. They had, appar- 
ently, been willing to accept the current theory that there was no 
hope for the confirmed inebriate and had been concerned with him 
only as a hideous example. His social degradation and his horrible 


death were used as a warning against drink, but his fate was deter- 
mined by his fall from grace, and his drunkard's grave was his just 

With the organization of the Washington Temperance Society 
the cause of temperance went into a different phase so diiferent 
that the Washingtonians might almost be said to have initiated a 
new crusade. And this time the leadership came, not from the su- 
perior, the untempted, and the incorruptible, but from the con- 
demned and neglected sots who rose from their gutters to conduct 
the assault upon the enemy that had laid them low. 

This new crusade was born in Chase's Tavern in Baltimore on 
the night of April 2, 1840. A group of six convivial souls, who met 
there frequently to drink and gamble, had their attention called to 
a temperance lecture being held in a near-by church. More as an 
idle joke than with any serious intent, they decided to send a few 
of their number to listen to the arguments of the reformer. The 
committee returned convinced of the logic of the speaker, and the 
whole group spent the night debating the subject of intoxication 
and their own relation to it. They decided to accept the challenge 
and pledge themselves to total abstinence from all intoxicants. Hav- 
ing drawn up and signed a comprehensive pledge, they proceeded 
to organize a society, elect officers, and plan their program. They 
named their society for the first president of the republic and, 
proudly calling themselves reformed drunkards, set out to attract 
others to join in their campaign. 

They were immediately successful. With an initiation fee of 
twenty-five cents and monthly dues of half that sum, the new so- 
ciety recruited its members largely from men whose careers and 
social standing had been similar to those of its founders. Within a 
few weeks the numbers attending each meeting were so great that 
the Washingtonians had to have a hall of their own. They called in 
no outside speakers; each program was the narration of the life 
history and regeneration of one or more members of the group, and 
opportunity was offered for other victims of drink to sign the 
pledge and in their turn carry on the work. The main objective of 
the society was the salvation of drunkards by reformed drunkards. 
Although there was no trace of religion either in the organization or 
in its appeal, it is impossible to write of it without using the words 

The original Washingtonians 

From an old print 



employed in describing camp meetings and revivals: "experience 
meetings/' "personal testimony," "salvation," "regeneration," "mis- 
sionaries." And the fact that many of the most ardent Washingtoni- 
ans became deeply religious men increased the resemblance between 
the movement and a genuine religious revival. 

Before the end of 1840 there were more than a thousand Wash- 
ingtonians in Baltimore, and the leaders were ready to carry the 
crusade to other cities. A New York Washingtonian Society was 
organized with nearly two thousand members, and a month later 
meetings in Boston ended in the formation of another society there. 
Missionaries were then sent through every state, and the movement 
swept across the country like a religious revival. There had been, in 
the earlier history of the movement, nothing comparable to the 
intense emotional appeal of the denunciation, by a reformed drunk- 
ard, of the cause of his degradation. Temperance lectures became 
dramatic experience recitals that ended in saving other souls from a 
fate that had been all too vividly described. 

With singing and shouting the Washingtonian pledge was signed 
by thousands of eager converts. By the end of 1841 in New York, 
New Jersey, and Pennsylvania alone, twenty-three thousand mem- 
bers had been added to the movement. Two years later the Wash- 
ingtonians claimed that half a million intemperate drinkers and a 
hundred thousand drunkards had signed their pledge, and that so- 
cieties had been formed in every city and town. Such figures should 
be taken with caution, however, for, as J. A. Krout has pointed out, 
these societies were mushroom growths and left few permanent 
records. No one could know how many pledge-signers returned to 
their cups when the excitement was over. 

Conspicuous in the Washingtonian parades were throngs of chil- 
dren wearing white satin badges and carrying banners on which 
appeared pictures of fountains and processions of people wending 
their way through leafy groves. These were divisions of the Cold 
Water Army, founded by the Reverend Thomas Hunt in 1839 just 
before the Washingtonian crusade began. Greatly augmented by 
the current enthusiasm, the Cold Water Army became the medium 
for organizing children for temperance work. Its periodical, the 
Cold Water Army, appeared regularly for twenty years and was a 
part of the equipment of every Sunday school library. Both the 


magazine and the book of the same name by the founder of the or- 
ganization were filled with short stories and verses designed to cause 
fear of "Demon Rum" and joy in persuading other children to sign 
the cold-water pledge, which appeared in poor verse: 

We do not think, 
We'll ever drink, 
Whiskey or Gin, 
Brandy or Rum, 

or anything, 
That'll make drunk come. 48 

The popular and democratic character of the new movement was 
apparent in its literature, and the songs, poetry, and fiction offered 
for the delectation of adults was of much the same caliber as that 
appearing in the children's magazines. To the tune of Yankee Doo- 
dle was set the song of "Jonathan's Independence," which began, 

Says Jonathan, says he, today 

I will be independent, 
And so my grog I'll throw away, 

And that shall be the end on't. 
Clean the house, the tarnal stuff 

Sha'n't be here so handy, 
Wife has given the winds her snuff 

So now here goes my brandy. 49 

This popular ditty was matched by many from the pen of a man 
who wrote under the pseudonym of Henry Smith, "the Celebrated 
Razor-Strop Man." The author was an English-born, itinerant ped- 
dler who had been saved by the Washingtonians and contributed 
his verses, anecdotes, and stories to their cause. 

The sentimental touch was provided by such poetic collections 
as The Silver Cup of Sparkling Drops edited by Miss C. B. Porter, 
which offered all the old arguments in such effusions as this: 

I gazed upon the tattered garb 

Of one who stood a listener by; 
The hand of misery pressed him hard, 

And tears of sorrow swelled his eye. 

I gazed up 

And asked him how his cares begun 
He sighed, and thus essayed to speak, 

"The cause of all my grief is rwn" 


I watched a maniac through the gate 

Whose raving shook me to the soul. 
I asked what sealed his wretched fate, 

The answer was "the cursed bowl" 

I asked a convict in his chains 

While tears along his cheek did roll; 
What devil urged him on to crime 

His answer was "the cursed bowl" 

I asked the murderer when the rope 
Hung round his neck in death's hard roll; 

Bereft of pardon, and of hope 
His answer was "the cursed bowl" 60 

Since the Washingtonians made great use of songs in their mass 
meetings and processions, the volume of musical and poetic propa- 
ganda increased rapidly. In 1845 they published The Washingtoman 
Teetotaler's Minstrel, which contained such classics as "The Rum- 
Seller's Lament," "Dear Father, Drink No More," and "Mother, 
Dry That Flowing Tear." About the same time appeared the sen- 
timental song "Father, Dear Father, Come Home with Me Now," 
which has been revived for the amusement of a later generation. 

Mrs. Lydia H. Sigourney was a champion of the movement and 
used her position as associate editor of Godey's Lady's Book to open 
its columns to many writers on temperance. Her own verses and 
stories had neither distinction nor style, but they were very popu- 
lar. The Temperance Tales of Lucius Manlius Sargent were widely 
read, although their literary merit was negligible. Their sincerity, 
missionary zeal, and directness of appeal made them so popular that 
they ran through more than one hundred editions and were trans- 
lated into several foreign languages. 

The best known writer in the temperance crusade, however, was 
Timothy Shay Arthur, whose Ten Nights in a Bar Room made up 
in dramatic title for any dullness in the subject matter. 61 There was 
little of the zealot or the reformer in Arthur. He had happened 
upon a theme for which there was an excellent market and from 
which he might derive a good living. His novels and short stories 
were stereotyped, their themes were highly moral, and their general 
character was decidedly dull and respectable; but the market was 
good, and his output was enormous. Besides stories and verse that 


appeared in Godey's Lady's Book and other magazines, he wrote a 
number of novels and edited several famous collections of tales, 
poems, and essays. In his Lights and Shadows of Real Life and in 
the Sons of Temperance Offerings of 1850 and 1851, Arthur col- 
lected a vast amount of temperance material and published it in 
de luxe tooled-leather editions for an admiring public. 

The backbone of the Washingtonian revival, however, was not 
the writers who flocked to its support but the evangelists who came 
from the ranks of the reformed drunkards. The most famous of 
these traveling workers were John H. W. Hawkins, who was won 
for the movement in 1840, and John B. Gough, who signed the 
pledge in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1842. Hawkins was Ameri- 
can born, a hatter by trade, who had early "taken to drink" and 
who had struggled against his bad habits without avail until he came 
under the influence of the Washingtonians. He became one of their 
greatest speakers and, in the eighteen years remaining to him, trav- 
eled two hundred thousand mUes and delivered five thousand ad- 
dresses. 82 John B. Gough was a younger man at the time of his 
"conversion," and his labors lasted for more than forty years. He 
was born in England but was sent to this country at an early age to 
seek his fortune. His hardships were incredible, and he sought ref- 
uge in drink. After seven years of vagrancy and intemperance, he 
signed the Washingtonian pledge and devoted himself without fal- 
tering to the cause. His Autobiography and Personal Recollections 
and his Sunlight and Shadow furnish a complete picture of a very 
interesting personality and a zealous crusader. 

Cough's zeal was like that of William Lloyd Garrison in the 
cause of abolition, and his statement .of purpose resembled Garri- 
son's, for he said, "While I can talk against the drink, I'll talk. 
When I can only whisper, I'll do that. And when I cannot whisper 
any longer, faith, I'll make motions they say I am good at that! " M 
The fervor of his eloquence has been preserved in such excerpts from 
his addresses as this one: 

What fills the almshouses and jails? What brings yon trembling 
wretch upon the gallows? It is drink. And we might call upon those in 
the.tomb to break forth. Ye mouldering victims! Wipe the grave dust 
crumbling from your brow; stalk forth in your tattered shrouds and 
bony whiteness, to testify against the drink! Come, come forth from 

From The Sons of Temperance Offering, 1851 

"The Temple of Sobriety" 

From The Sons of Temperance Offering, 1851 

"Love's Eclipse" 


the gallows, you spirit-maddened man-slayer! Give up your bloody 
knife, and stalk forth to testify against it! Crawl from the slimy ooze, 
ye drowned drunkards, and with suffocation's blue and livid lips speak 
out against the drink! Unroll the record of the past, and let the record- 
ing angel read out the murder indictments written in God's book of 
remembrance! Ay, let the past be unfolded, and the shrieks of victims 
wailing be borne down upon the night blast! Snap your burning chains, 
ye denizens of the pit, and come up sheeted in the fire, dripping with 
the flames of hell, and with your trumpet tongues testify against the 
damnation of the drink! 5 * 

From the point of view of the less dramatic old-line temperance 
worker, however, there was something unsatisfactory in the work 
of such men and in the emotionalism and sentimentalism of - the 
writers who carried on the campaign. The intelligentsia wailed that 
"emotion is supplanting reason," and the clergy were convinced 
that the Washingtonians were, if not a godless lot, at least a church- 
less one, making a substitute for religion out of their own doctrine. 
The new crusaders cared nothing for legislative action and relied 
entirely upon their ability to persuade the victims of drink to sign 
the teetotal pledge. 55 Nor were they much concerned about organi- 
zation or programs of education. Their local societies were never 
welded into an integrated movement; each group was independent 
and often short-lived, and when the wave of revivalism had sub- 
sided, there was little in the way of permanent organization to con- 
tinue the work. Since many of the members were reformed 
inebriates, there was much backsliding, and since they often came 
from the dregs of society, there was little education or leadership 
among them. Men of great ability became itinerant lecturers; the 
rank and file was not of high caliber. 

By 1843 many of the Washingtonians had gone over into the 
older societies; others formed a number of new societies that en- 
deavored to make up for the lack of coordination in their parent 
Washingtonians. The best known of these new groups, the Order 
of the Sons of Temperance, was founded in 1842 as a highly cen- 
tralized, mutual benefit, semisecret organization. It spread rapidly 
and by 1850 numbered thirty-six grand divisions with nearly six 
thousand subordinate units and a quarter of a million paying mem- 
bers. 56 The Independent Order of Rechabites, the Temple of Honor, 
the Cadets of Temperance, the Good Samaritans, and the Good 


Templars all claimed numerous members. Some of these societies 
admitted women; others organized separate branches for women; 
one at least opened its doors to Negroes. They were all semifrater- 
nal in nature, and many of them had mutual aid or insurance fea- 
tures. In the late 1850'$ a new youth movement, called the Band of 
Hope, was organized. Some of these organizations were short-lived; 
others lived long enough to be assimilated into the new temperance 
movement of a later generation. 


Largely to the clergy was due the international phase of the tem- 
perance movement. In 1846 a World's Temperance Convention 
was held in London to which the United States sent a distinguished 
delegation including John Marsh, Lyman Beecher, William Lloyd 
Garrison, Elihu Burritt, the peace advocate, and Frederick Doug- 
lass, the famous Negro abolitionist. Seven years later the second 
world conference was held in New York City under the presidency 
of Neal Dow, eminent Maine prohibitionist. 

Temperance advocates traveled widely, and the United States 
was visited by several British enthusiasts. Father Mathew, the Irish 
temperance leader, came in 1849 and was cordially received despite 
the antiforeign, anti-Catholic sentiment of the period. Catholics 
listened to him with pride as well as with approval, and they organ- 
ized numerous Father Mathew societies. Boston abolitionists en- 
deavored to lionize the frail, gentle priest for their own ends, for he 
had been as outspoken in his condemnation of slavery as of strong 
drink, but he escaped their toils and went on to the nation's capital, 
only to find that his antislavery sentiments had caused an acrimoni- 
ous dispute in the Senate, which desired to honor his achievements 
in the cause of temperance. 57 

James Silk Buckingham, too, lectured on temperance in many 
American cities, but perhaps had his most interesting experience in 
Lexington, Kentucky, where he attended a temperance meeting 
held out of doors in true camp-meeting style, with exhortations of 
revivalistic fervor and the singing of the united choirs of the local 
churches. 88 Buckingham everywhere stressed the universality of the 
temperance movement and its moral purposes. His arguments were, 
in general, the same as those of the American crusaders. 



Revivified by the Washingtonian movement, the older temper- 
ance societies were encouraged to renew their efforts to place on the 
statute books laws that would regulate or end the traffic in intoxi- 
cants. Almost every state had some sort of licensing law designed to 
ensure sale by recognized and responsible dealers, but the fees were 
so low that licensing furnished no check upon retailers, and the 
regulations were so lax that there was little safeguard for the con- 
sumer. Between 1830 and 1840 several states experimented with 
measures providing more drastic regulation and with local option 
provisions. The most important single piece of such legislation was 
the Massachusetts law of 1838 prohibiting the retailing of spirituous 
liquor in any quantity less than fifteen gallons, "and that delivered 
and carried away all at once." 59 The passage of this bill was fol- 
lowed by a war of petitions and pamphlets, and it was repealed in 
1 840 and the state once more relied upon local option with consid- 
erable effect, for between 1841 and 1852 no licenses were granted 
in Boston, and in 1845 no liquor was sold in one hundred towns in 
the state. 

. The prohibition idea gained supporters, however, and those states 
that were winning victories through local option were anxious to 
complete the process by statewide prohibition while enthusiasm 
ran high and votes could be secured for such legislation. In Maine 
the temperance movement had early taken a political turn, and lo- 
cal societies pledged themselves not "to vote for a man for any civil 
office who is in the habit of using ardent spirits or wine to excess." 60 
Under the leadership of Neal Dow of Portland, the state began in 
1829 to pass a series of laws tightening up the licensing system. 
Convinced that there was little hope in this mode of action, the re- 
formers introduced a statewide prohibition bill and inaugurated a 
battle to get it passed. House-to-house canvasses were made; pro- 
cessions, music, banners, picnics in fact all the agencies of popular 
propaganda were utilized. Prohibition advocates capitalized upon 
the Washingtonian revival and procured reformed drunkards as 
speakers. They were defiant of mob action and even hoped for an 
occasional martyr to keep the excitement at fever pitch. Slowly 
their legislative supporters grew in numbers, and at last in 1 846 they 
forced through the first comprehensive statewide prohibition act. 61 


Other states were eagerly awaiting the outcome of Maine's ac- 
tion. New York passed a local option bill in 1845, under which five 
sixths of the towns of the state voted for no license in the next year. 
Gerrit Smith threw himself into the fight, and, when many com- 
munities rescinded their hasty actions a year later, he went over to 
the idea of complete state prohibition. He labored with such effect 
that the legislature enacted prohibition in 1854. 

In 1852 Vermont adopted by a narrow margin a measure based 
on the Maine law, and kept it on the statute books for fifty years. 
Rhode Island and the Territory of Minnesota enacted prohibition 
laws in 1852, Michigan in 1853, Connecticut in 1854, and New 
Hampshire, Tennessee, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, 
and Wisconsin by 1855. In the same period the Pennsylvania As- 
sembly passed a prohibition bill, only to have it fail by one vote in 
the Senate, and a similar measure lost with a tie vote in New Jersey. 

Not all these measures were permanent, however, for in a few 
states they were badly drawn and were declared unconstitutional 
by the state courts, while in others public support waned and they 
were amended or repealed. Before 1860 the movement was smoth- 
ered by the excitement over slavery, and the war years did much 
damage to prohibition legislation. 

There were many people who, although they numbered them- 
selves among the advocates of temperance, were yet uneasy over 
the adoption of coercive measures. As Harriet Martineau had writ- 
ten many years earlier, the seriousness of the evils of intemperance 
had caused some men to acquiesce in policies of which they could 
never wholly approve. In writing of the Maine law, Theodore 
Parker expressed the feeling of many toward such legislative action: 

They have a new law in Maine. It makes the whole state an asylum for 
the drunkard. . . . The law seems an invasion of private right. It is an 
invasion, but for the sake of preserving the rights of all. I think wine ' 

wrong in their principles. I believe it will be found on examination that, 
other things being equal, men who use stimulants moderately live 
longer, and have a sounder old age* than teetotalers. But now I think 
that nine tenths of the alcoholic stimulus that is used is abused. The evil 
is so monstrous, so patent, so universal, that it becomes the duty of the 
state to take care of its citizens; the whole of its parts. 62 


In a tract entitled A Resurrection of the Blue Laws, or Maine 
Reform in Temperate Doses, an indignant citizen calling himself a 
"Primitive Washingtonian" pleaded for a return to the principles 
of the founding fathers. He held that the Maine law was undoubt- 
edly unconstitutional, was a violation of personal rights, and was an 
attempt to punish as a crime an act that could not in itself be con- 
sidered criminal. Human nature, he said, could not be modified by 
law. Social customs must be changed, popular amusements must be 
provided at popular prices, and the fundamental causes for intem- 
perance must be remedied before drinking would cease. In Maine, 
he declared, although the grogshops had been closed, more money 
was spent for drink than ever before. 

This argument was carried a step farther by Edward Payson in 
another tract called The Maine Law in the Balance, in which he 
declared that many opponents of the Maine law were true temper- 
ance men, opposed only to the "despotism of party." He claimed 
the right of free speech and asserted that there was no reason to 
suppress investigation. The fundamental error in the theory of the 
Maine law was, he said, 

. . . that a great moral evil, whose cancerous spots have for thousands 
of years penetrated the body politic through and through, and for hun- 
dreds of centuries have clasped it round and round, is susceptible of a 
radical and nearly instantaneous cure. An ancient philosopher once said, 
"Give me a lever long enough, and I will move the world." These mod- 
ern philosophers promise to do the same thing without a lever. "Away," 
say they, "with your lazy-moving, clumsy contrivance you call moral 
suasion. No slow coach like that for us. Stand aside, and we will show 
you a more rapid working. 68 

But it was left for an anonymous author in a tract called The 
Ramrod Broken; or The Bible, History, and Common Sense, in Fa- 
vor of the Moderate Use of Good Spirituous Liquors to raise the 
whole argument of legislative coercion ta the higher level of po- 
litical theory: 

It may be argued, we very well know, that, as mankind advances in 
true civilization, they will be more and more disposed to dispense with 
such an indulgence, even if it be done by the aid of legal provision; but 
such is in no sense good logic, since the higher the civilization, the more 
we insist on leaving to individual choice and government; we do not 
call ourselves free, we do not speak of ourselves as in the enjoyment of 


any sort of liberty if at some time we are forcibly restrained of what, 
in even a ruder society, was left to the self -restraining power of the 
individual; 64 

In the progress of the temperance crusade were apparent all the 
possibilities of voluntary association and all the practices and meth- 
ods pertinent to democratic institutions. There were evidenced, as 
well, all the humanitarian and charitable impulses of the early nine- 
teenth century, given force and driving power by the tremendous 
upsurge of emotional, revivalistic religion. But back of it all lay the 
danger, ever present in a democracy, of the infringement by a ma- 
jority of the rights of a minority and the further dangers inherent 
in the use of force to settle a moral issue. 


Denials of Democratic Principles 

Progress toward understanding the full meaning of the democratic 
faith was not always along the lines of positive assertion. There 
were in the first half of the nineteenth century some almost hysteri- 
cal denials of the very foundations of American institutions, occa- 
sions when blind prejudice and mass hatred were used in refutation 
of liberal tenets repeatedly affirmed by statesmen and entrenched in 
the Constitution itself. And yet, even in their most violent expres- 
sion, these denials of free speech, of freedom of association, and of 
freedom of religion were made in the name of the very liberties 
they attacked and often by the same men who were fighting hard 
for liberal reforms in other directions. 

It was only through the assertion that Freemasonry was secret, 
undemocratic, and subversive of American institutions that support 
could be acquired for the proscription of the Masonic order, and 
discrimination against the foreign-bom was justified by charges that 
immigrants neither understood the responsibilities of American citi- 
zenship nor appreciated its privileges. Religious intolerance could 
only be roused to fever pitch by linking Catholicism with plots to 
overthrow the republican form of government and the freedoms 
guaranteed by the Constitution. There can be no doubt that the 
sons of the Revolution were loyal to the ideals of their fathers even 
when, blinded by prejudice and urged on by false teachers, they 
fought against enemies only in part real or substantial and certainly, 
to a great extent, created by economic forces far too strong to be 
subdued or deflected by those who entered into combat with them. 


Social and economic in its origin but largely political in its ex- 
pression, the attack on the Masonic order in the years after 1827 
was an extraordinary manifestation of the combination of principle, 
prejudice, and hysteria that has often confounded students of Ameri- 
can democracy. Perhaps it was no coincidence that this movement 
began in the "burnt" district of western New York, which had re- 
cently been swept by the flames of the Great Revival. From there it 


spread eastward into Vermont and southern New England and down 
into western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio. 

In 1 826 there were rumors through western New York that Wil- 
liam Morgan, an impoverished stonemason of Batavia, had written a 
book exposing the secrets of Freemasonry. Morgan was a Virginian 
by birth, apparently more or less a ne'er-do-well and a wanderer. 
Somewhere in the course of his travels he had acquired a doubtful 
claim to membership in the Masonic Order, and he was Accepted 
into the lodge of LeRoy, New York, when he appeared in that 
neighborhood. In the early iSzo's he moved on to Batavia and soon 
joined in a project to establish a Masonic lodge in that town. Dis- 
pleased with his lack of standing in the community, the rest of the 
group discarded the application that Morgan had sponsored and 
sent in another that did not contain his name. This was thought to 
be the cause for his decision to publish the secrets of Masonry. 

Both Morgan and David Miller, the printer who agreed to get 
out the book, probably expected to make their fortunes in the ven- 
ture. Whatever "secrets" Morgan was qualified to disclose pertained 
only to the lower orders of Masonry, and the two men either were 
in association with others who would give them information in re- 
turn for a share of the profits or they had access to previously 
published, more comprehensive disclosures. 

When completed, Illustrations of Masonry by One of the Frater- 
nity Who Has Devoted Thirty Years to the Subject was a shoddy 
piece of work that would probably have attracted very little atten- 
tion had it not been for the violent attempts to suppress it and the 
efforts of certain local Masons to silence Morgan. The mere rumor 
that the work was being prepared had led to protests and warnings. 
In August 1826 the following notice appeared in the Canandaigua 

Notice and Caution 

If a man calling himself William Morgan should intrude himself 
upon the community, they should be on their guard, particularly the 
Masonic fraternity. Any information in relation to Morgan can be 
obtained by calling at the Masonic Hall in this village. Brethren and 
companions are particularly requested to observe, mark, and govern 
themselves accordingly. Morgan is considered a swindler and a danger- 
ous man. There are people in this village who would be glad to see this 
Captain Morgan. 1 


This notice was followed by various methods of intimidation. Sub- 
scriptions to Miller's newspaper were canceled, suits for debt were 
entered against both Morgan and Miller, and an attempt was made 
to burn the printing office where the book was being prepared for 
publication. Morgan was arrested for stealing a shirt and a cravat 
but was released when he proved that he had borrowed the articles. 
He was then rearrested and lodged in the Canandaigua jail for non- 
payment of an old debt of less than three dollars. 

On the night of September 12, 1826, men came to the jail and 
paid the debt, requesting the release of Morgan. When he came out 
of the building, he was seized by two men, hurried to a carriage, 
and quickly driven from the town. It was later proved that his 
abductors were Masons, that relays of horses were furnished by 
Masons along the route, that he was taken across the Canadian bor- 
der and then back to old Fort Niagara. After that all trace of him 
disappeared, and his fate has never been ascertained. Antimasons 
asserted that he was murdered and that his body was sunk in the 
Niagara River. A committee of Lewiston citizens opposed to Ma- 
sonry busied itself for weeks with dredging the river and the south 
shore of Lake Ontario. When at last a corpse was found, it was 
called the body of Morgan and was buried at Batavia with great 
ceremony. Some weeks later proof was offered that one Timothy 
Munroe had received the honors of the Antimasons, and the fate of 
Morgan was as obscure as ever. Masons believed he had disappeared 
voluntarily, one story being that he had been bribed to do so by 
Masons who had failed in other efforts to silence him, another that 
he had departed for England to the discomfiture of the Masons, 
who had hoped to produce him in triumphant refutation of all the 
calumnies against their order. Rumors galore sprang up about Mor- 
gan's fate. He was a hermit in Canada, a merchant in Smyrna, an 
Indian chief in the Rockies. One report had him hanged as a pirate, 
and according to another he was a pious convert to Mohammedan- 
ism and lived on in peace and comfort in Constantinople. 

The excitement was increased by the trials in the following Janu- 
ary of four men known to have participated in Morgan's abduction. 
The charges were conspiracy "to seize, carry off, and hold"; the 
defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced to terms of from one 
month to three years in prison. Masons and their opponents broke 


into print with equal enthusiasm in the following months. Samuel D. 
Green, the author of The Broken Seal; or Personal Reminiscences 
of the Morgan Abduction and Murder, was a Batavia Mason who 
left the ranks and followed Morgan's example in revealing the se- 
crets of Masonic ritual. He testified in the Morgan trials and toured 
the state of New York lecturing on what were, perhaps, the most 
exciting events of his life. A committee of Lewiston Antimasons 
published The Narrative of the Facts and Circumstances Relating 
to the Kidnapping and Presumed Murder of William Morgan, and 
in faraway Ohio Dyer Burgess wrote Solomon's Temple Haunted 
or Free-Masonry, the Man of Sin in the Temple of God. One 
Henry Brown wrote A Narrative of the Anti-Masonick Excitement 
for "honest men" who were willing to listen to reason and who re- 
fused to succumb to "a popular excitement similar to that of Salem 
witchcraft." Brown believed there were some honest Antimasons 
but felt that most of them attacked Masons "with a view to rising 
on their ruins." 

Opponents of the Masons held that the Morgan trials were pure 
farce and the punishment given the abductors grossly inadequate. 
They claimed that the whole Masonic order was united in an effort 
to shield the murderers of Morgan. Two of the Masonic oaths were 
(juoted as evidence of the probable miscarriage of justice. One pro- 
vided that each initiate swear to assist his fellows whenever they 
were in difficulty "whether [they] were right or wrong"; the other 
was a pledge to advance a brother's best interests "by always sup- 
porting his military fame and political preferment in opposition to 
another." These oaths gave weight to the accusations that Masons 
were obstructing the Morgan investigation and further trials of 
conspirators. Witnesses were believed to have been spirited away, 
supposed accomplices disappeared, and men brought before grand 
juries refused to testify on the ground that they could not be com- 
pelled to incriminate themselves. There were loud demands that 
Masons be excluded from juries and that Masonic judges not be al- 
lowed to participate in trials where any party was a member of the 
order. In the meantime Governor Clinton, himself a Mason, had 
offered a reward for finding Morgan alive and a larger one for dis- 
covering his murderers and proof of his death. 
, Antimasons summed up all these facts and came to the conclu- 


sion that Masonry was inconsistent with American liberties and with 
the responsibility of citizenship in a democracy. They thereupon set 
to work in the name of freedom to bring organized social and 
political pressure to bear against an organization they held to be 
un-American. Religious denominations turned against the order, 
preachers who were Masons were forced to resign their lodge mem- 
bership or their positions, and prominent Masons were refused com- 
munion. Women met to resolve that their daughters should not 
marry Masons and hurried home to persuade or coerce their hus- 
bands to withdraw from the order. Business and professional men 
found it profitable to announce their surrender to popular clamor, 
and many New York lodges gave up their charters. The Masonic 
oath was declared to be sacrilegious, and the whole order was called 
antireligious and undemocratic. A flood of propaganda convinced 
the uncritical and caused even the conservatives to feel that there 
must be a measure of truth behind the accusations. 

Since much of the criticism was directed toward the political mis- 
demeanors of Masons, it was an easy transition from complaint to 
political action. 2 In the spring elections of 1827 there was a cry of 
"No Masons for Office," and opponents of Masonry agreed not to 
vote for candidates known to belong to the order. In the state elec- 
tions in the fall of that year the Antimasons polled seventeen thou- 
sand votes and elected fifteen members of the lower house of the 
legislature. All the movement lacked to make it a full-fledged poli- 
tical party was a set of leaders who could whip its chaotic adherents 
into some sort of unity. 

Those leaders were found in two young men of western New 
York, already friends and already interested in politics. One of 
them was Thurlow Weed, newspaper editor of Rochester; the other 
was William Henry Seward, lawyer of Auburn. Both were appar- 
ently sincere in their belief that secret societies were harmful and 
that the Masons had obstructed justice in the Morgan trials, 8 but 
both, too, were ambitious and were members of a party that was 
rapidly disintegrating under the onslaught of the Jacksonian Demo- 
crats. New blood was necessary for the National Republican party 
and for the attack upon Jackson, and the Antimasons could fur- 
nish that blood and the zeal necessary to make it effective. Under 
Weed's skillful manipulation the Antimasonic movement was turned 


from its original purposes and made to serve his ends much to the 
distress of such sincere; Antimasons as Solomon Southwick and John 
Crary, who maintained that "true Antimasonry had become sub- 
verted to Anti-Jacksonism." 

While these two incompatible groups ambitious would-be poli- 
tical leaders and Antunasonic fanatics -endeavored to present a 
united front before the world, they quarreled bitterly behind the 
scenes throughout the brief career of the Antimasonic party. That 
career, interesting as it is, is political rather than social history. Per- 
haps its chief accomplishment was inaugurating the brilliant politi- 
cal career of William Henry Seward, whom the Antimasons elected 
to the state senate in 1830. Long after Antimasonry was forgotten, 
Seward, as leader of the New York Whigs, governor of the state, 
and United States senator, continued the work of reform that he 
began under such peculiar auspices. 

In Pennsylvania Antimasonry was identified with the name, and 
aided in enhancing the fame, of Thaddeus Stevens, whose services 
for democracy, for education, and for the cause of the Negro were 
to be freely given for more than forty years. As early as 1820 the 
Presbyterian Synod of Pittsburgh had pronounced Masonry "unfit 
for professing Christians." In 1827 "committees of safety" were or- 
ganized in many western counties, and the Masonic order was con- 
demned as "unrepublican and subversive of the American form of 
government." When the Antimasons of New York polled thirty 
thousand votes in 1827 and more than double that number in 1828, 
Pennsylvania, too, organized an Antimasonic party, and Thaddeus 
Stevens was its zealot and its prophet. 

In 1832 the party in Pennsylvania elected the governor of the 
state and, with the aid of the Clay group, dominated the legislature, 
la 1833 Stevens was elected to the legislature, where he kept the 
Antimasonic party alive for four years in a vigorous but unsuccess- 
ful attack upon the right of Masons to serve on juries and act as 
judges when non-Masons were parties to suits. Nor was he able to 
get a law suppressing the order. Such was popular pressure, how- 
ever, that nearly one half of the lodges in Pennsylvania voluntarily 
surrendered their charters. 

In Vermont the clamor of the New York Antimasons fell upon 
receptive ears. The western slopes of the Green Mountains were 


conditioned to such waves of hysteria by repeated revivals. The 
secrecy and oath-taking of the Masonic ritual aroused religious an- 
tagonism, and the fact that in Vermont the Masonic order was 
largely composed of men of wealth and affairs made it easy to stir 
up the farmers and the poor against it. Led by an ex-Mason of 
the hill country, General Martin Flint, the Vermont Antimasons 
marched to victory in 1828 with a platform that included anti- 
Calvinism and antislavery as well as the cause of the common man 
against the power of aristocratic secret societies. 

The most active Antimasons in Vermont were members of the 
Baptist, Methodist, or Christian churches. The leaders of the move- 
ment were older men once of importance politically, evangelical 
ministers, and ambitious young men who saw little chance of mak- 
ing names for themselves in the older parties. The Antimasons held 
the first political convention in Vermont history in 1829 and pro- 
ceeded to wrest control of state politics from the angry and aston- 
ished politicians who had dominated the state for years. William 
Slade, later an abolition Whig, was sent to Congress, state offices 
were filled with Antimasons, and the Masonic lodges of the state 
were deserted. When only a faithful few were left to keep Ma- 
sonry alive until the days of proscription should pass, the issue over 
which a political party had been created disappeared. After 1835 
the Antimasonic leaders in Vermont, as in New York and Pennsyl- 
vania, were taken over into the Whig party. 

In Massachusetts and Rhode Island the story was much the same, 
although the movement showed less strength than in Vermont. In 
1833 ex-President John Quincy Adams ran for governor of Massa- 
chusetts on the Antimasonic ticket and polled eighteen thousand 
votes. Davis, the National Republican or Whig candidate, had a 
plurality of the votes, and the election went to the legislature. 
Adams withdrew his name and Davis was installed. Two years later 
the fusion with the Whigs was made permanent, and Antimasonry 
ceased to be a political issue. 

In New Jersey there was some interest among the Quakers. In 
Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire there were state Antima- 
sonic conventions, and in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan Antimasonry 
made a brief appeal to groups of New England descent; but in no 
one of these states was die party of significance. 


In national politics the movement made slight impression. Na- 
tional conventions were held in 1830 and in 183 1. In the latter year 
the Antimasonic party, refusing to unite with other anti-Jackson 
groups in support of Henry Clay, nominated William Wirt, a dis- 
tinguished Maryland lawyer, for President. Wirt accepted the nomi- 
nation frankly in the hope that the antiadministration factions that 
refused to unite on Clay might accept him as their standard-bearer. 
When the National Republicans nominated Clay, there was noth- 
ing to do except permit his name to be used to the end. He made no 
effort at campaigning but quietly awaited the result of the election, 
which gave him only the seven electoral college votes of Vermont. 

The nomination of Wirt, who refused to condemn all Masons 
without discrimination, showed the impossibility of reconciling such 
proscription with the American principles the party professed to 
defend. At the same time, Wirt's acceptance of such a nomination 
was evidence of the confusion of party politics in 1832, a confusion 
that had, in itself, been the chief reason for the growth of political 

The election of 1832 brought to an end the brief career of Anti- 
masonry as a national party. In Pennsylvania the Antimasons of 
German descent returned to their allegiance to Jackson; elsewhere 
Antimasonry was absorbed by the Whig party. As Thurlow Weed 
had hoped from the beginning, out of the confusion a strong new 
party had arisen, and in the creation of that party the Antimasons 
played their part. Their fear lest a sinister influence be extended 
over American law and politics by a favored social group, bound 
together by solemn oaths in a secret organization, were set at rest 
by the diminution in numbers and prestige of the Freemasons. It 
never seemed to occur to Weed, Stevens, or their fellow zealots, 
when they cried out in condemnation of the lack of democracy of 
their opponents, that their own prescriptive policies were an equal 
denial of the rights of free men. 


^ The self-appointed guardians of American democratic institu- 
tions soon found another cause in which to expend their energies 
and another set of fears and alarms to arouse them to hysterical ac- 
tion. From the early 1830'$ until the period of die Civil War anti- 


Catholicism was of recurring importance in American social life 
and politics. It joined with the fears aroused by the rapid increase 
of immigration, and the two together swept thousands of Ameri- 
cans into highly emotional and violent movements directed against 
both the foreigner and the Catholic. 

The action taken was often simple and direct, but the movement 
itself was far from simple, and any analysis of it leads deep into the 
very foundations of the American faith. The American colonies had 
been born in the travail of the Old World in the era of the Ref- 
ormation. Protestantism was stamped upon the English settlements 
with the arrival of the Puritans, whose Calvinism was too close 
to their hearts to permit the compromises the mother country 
demanded of them. Quakers, Baptists, and other Nonconformists 
settled in compact groups. Later German pietists, Scotch-Irish Pres- 
byterians, and French Huguenots added their own fervent anti- 
Catholic faith to the Protestantism of the English colonies. The 
enemies of the colonists were the French and the Spanish, whose ex- 
plorers had been accompanied by black-robed priests and whose 
Indian allies, presumably converted by those priests, preyed upon 
the back country. Anti-Catholicism was deep-rooted in the thirteen 
colonies that in 1776 called themselves the United States. Only in 
Maryland were Catholics welcomed, and only there did they live 
in numbers. 

Religious toleration, however, was a fundamental tenet of the 
statesmen who built American institutions. Their charter of reli- 
gious liberties included the complete separation of church and state. 
Before the law all religious sects were alike, nor could there be dis- 
crimination among citizens on account of religion, or religious quali- 
fication for suffrage or for any civil liberty. 

American Catholics, on their part, were overjoyed at the mani- 
festations of toleration and were thoroughly in sympathy with the 
new republic, for which many of them had fought. John Carroll, 
brother of the Charles Carroll who signed the Declaration, was 
made the first bishop of Baltimore in 1789 and impressed the deep 
patriotism of himself and his family upon the American Catholic 
church. He wanted his clergy and his people to be thoroughly iden- 
. tified with the land in which they lived and to contribute to it, as 
they received from it, toleration and understanding. 


With but thirty thousand Catholics in a population of four mil- 
lion, the most extreme Protestants could have found little cause for 
fear of Catholic domination. The number that professed that faith 
grew rapidly, however, in the early years of the republic. Revolu- 
tionary uprisings in the French West Indies caused the flight of 
wealthy and cultured Creoles, many of whom settled in New Or- 
leans or in Atlantic seaboard cities. With each change in the gov- 
ernment of France between 1 789 and 1815 new groups were forced 
into exile, and French immigrants crossed the mountains to settle 
in the Ohio country. 

Some of these exiles were Catholic priests, most of them were 
communicants of that church, and Catholicism gained both in num- 
bers and in strength by their arrival. Some of these refugee priests 
founded the first Catholic seminary in the United States; six of 
those who came between 1791 and 1799 became bishops. They 
were cultured, tactful men, cosmopolitan in background, liberal in 
outlook, and they did much to build up the church in the land of 
their adoption. One of these French bishops, Cheverus of Boston, 
was so respected by the Protestant citizens of Massachusetts that 
two hundred of them protested against his recall, saying, "We hold 
him to be a blessing and a treasure in our social community, which 
we cannot part with, and which, without unjustice to any man, we 
may affirm, if withdrawn from us, can never be replaced." 4 

In 1803 the United States acquired Louisiana with its old and 
established French Catholic centers in New Orleans and St. Louis, 
but even without the Louisiana population the Catholics of the 
United States numbered nearly ninety thousand by 1815. They 
were scattered throughout the country, still most numerous in Mary- 
land, but with growing contingents in the cities of the East, where 
the Irish immigrants were making their homes. A few Catholic Irish 
came to America in the colonial period, a few more in the first dec- 
ades of the republic, but the great influx did not begin until after 
1815. There were enough New York Irish before 1817 to organize 
a Shamrock Society, which published Hints to Emigrants from 
Europe, Who Intend to Make a Permanent Residence in the United 
States of America. The society stated that there were at that date 
twelve thousand Irish in New York City alone and that other East- 
ern cities had numbers in similar proportion to their population. 


The Catholic church gained little from conversion of native 
Americans; its great increase came largely from the immigration 
of European Catholics. In 1810 there were seventy-five thousand 
Catholics, constituting a little more than one per cent of the total 
population; in 1840 they numbered a million, or better than five and 
a half per cent of the population; and in 1860 there were three mil- 
lion of them, about ten per cent of the nation's thirty-one millions. 5 

The church recognized this growth in numbers by multiplying 
churches and dioceses. In 1820 the diocese of Charleston was organ- 
ized, and a great statesman of the American church, Bishop John 
England, was in charge there until 1842. In the early i82o's Catho- 
lic organization crossed the mountains, where missionaries had early 
preached the Catholic way of life. Dioceses were set up for Detroit, 
Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Galveston, and other Western dis- 
tricts in the next decade and a half. 

Nor was the Catholic church slow to realize its responsibility to 
educate those who accepted its spiritual guidance. Georgetown Col- 
lege, first planned in 1786, was finally opened shortly after 1800. 
After 1805 the resuscitated Jesuit Order was active in the organiza- 
tion of schools and colleges. The first Catholic seminary for the 
training of priests was opened in Baltimore in 1790, and a college to 
prepare boys for the seminary was founded a decade later. There 
was a Catholic college in Pennsylvania shortly after 1800, and Cath- 
olic elementary and secondary schools were opened in Kentucky, 
Indiana, and Michigan in the same decade. 

In Detroit the French priest, Father Gabriel Richard, was a pio- 
neer in education and in the preparation of textbooks. It was he 
who planned the Catholepistemiad or University of Michigania, 
which was to include a free public school system, libraries, lyceums, 
museums, a university, and technical schools. The Territory of 
Michigan accepted the plan in theory at least, pledged fifteen per 
cent of its taxes to education, and secured Father Richard and a 
Presbyterian minister as the first faculty, at salaries of twelve dollars 
and a half a year apiece. One man held seven professorships, the 
other six. When the University of Michigan was founded on a dif- 
ferent plan a few years later, Father Richard was a trustee. He was 
also a charter member of the Michigan Historical Society and the 
only Catholic priest ever elected to Congress. 


The education of girls was undertaken early. The Order of Sis- 
ters of Charity was established about 1805, and the Sacred Heart, 
the Ursuline, and other teaching orders appeared shortly thereafter. 
Their convent schools were a great success and were patronized by 
Protestants and Catholics alike. The nuns were often French, Bel- 
gian, German, or Irish ladies of gentle birth and extensive training. 
Their pupils were carefully guarded and were taught the social 
graces as well as languages and music. By 1860 there were more 
than two hundred such schools. 

In his "Pony Years of American Life, 1821-1861, Thomas Low 
Nichols described several Catholic schools on the frontier in terms 
that make it easy to understand their popularity. He visited an 
Ursuline convent in Ohio that he reached after a journey through 
the forest over a road that was a mere muddy track in the wilder- 
ness. The establishment consisted of a large brick building for nuns 
and pupils and cottages for the farm laborers who cultivated the 
hundred or more acres of cleared land and did whatever work was 
needed in the forest lands. Two French priests ministered to the 
spiritual needs of the convent and the surrounding countryside, and 
four nuns one English, one French, one Belgian, and one Ameri- 
canran the household and taught the thirty pupils. Nichols was 
royally entertained, with good food and better wine and an eve- 
ning concert by the girls. He went on to visit a similar establish- 
ment in northern Indiana, where a Catholic college, a seminary, a 
school for boys and one for girls, and an industrial school, all under 
the excellent management of a French director, had attracted be- 
tween one and two hundred students. 

Nichols asserted that there was little direct proselyting in these 
Catholic schools, and, perhaps since he was himself a Catholic, he 
approved the policy because of its results: 

. . . everywhere in America, in the best society, the most accomplished 
and influential ladies have been educated in convents, and though they 
may never go over to Rome they love and respect their teachers, and 
defend them from the attacks commonly made against them. All this 
is favourable to the work of conversion which Catholics hope to accom- 
plish. Education is removing prejudices, and the chaotic condition of 
the Protestant community, divided into warring sects, increases the 
power of a Church whose characteristic is unity, and whose claim is 
infallibility. 6 


These indirect methods of reducing Protestant resistance may not 
have seemed so innocuous to the frontiersmen who were descen- 
dants of Calvinistic New Englanders, and they may have disliked 
still more some other tactics that Nichols reported: 

He [the Father Superior] told me, with a curiously quiet consciousness 
of power in his tone and manner, how he had put down some bigotry 
in the neighborhood, which had at one time threatened them, by exer- 
cising the political influence given him by the votes of his community. 
"It is not necessary for us to vote," said he, "we have not that trouble; 
but the fact that we can do so whenever we choose, and defeat either 
party, is quite enough to make both treat us with a respectful consid- 

eration." 7 


The gains of the Catholics did not go unnoticed in Protestant 
circles, nor did Americans fail to note how much the growth of the 
church was due to immigration. Within the hierarchy itself the for- 
eign character of the church was pronounced. The religious orders 
were an importation from European countries; priests and nuns 
were more often French, Belgian, or Irish than American; most of 
the prelates bore foreign names; and large funds were received an- 
nually from European missionary organizations for the promotion 
of the church's work in America. 

In the years after the Revolution, America had acquired a faith 
of its own a faith composed of emotional revivalism, allegiance to 
democratic institutions, and belief in the destiny of the United 
States. A national faith, says Ralph Henry Gabriel in his recent 
book, The Course of American Democratic Thought? needs an ad- 
versary; and the adversary was at hand in Catholicism. 

It is difficult and doubtless futile to ascertain whether this accept- 
ance of the Catholic church as an opponent of American Protes- 
tantism antedated or followed aggressive activities of the Catholics; 
certainly after the issue was joined both parties were able in offen- 
sive and defensive tactics. It is equally purposeless to try to deter- 
mine whether the Catholic was hated because he was a foreigner 
or because he was a Catholic. Some of his opponents were most 
alarmed because of his Catholicism, and the leaders of the nativist 
movements were from devout and apprehensive Protestant groups, 
but it is probable that the rank and file in the crises of nativism were 


actuated by hatred of the ubiquitous foreigner who competed with 

the native in the labor market and for political control. 

Reactions varied, too, in different parts of the country. In Louisi- 
ana, for example, where many American-born citizens were Catho- 
lic, nativist sentiment was little colored by anti-Catholicism. In 
New York and New England, on the other hand, the Irishman may 
have been hated and feared more for his religion than for his for- 
eign birth. 

At any rate, suspicion of the naturalized citizen and fear of the 
sinister designs of the Catholic church have never been entirely ab- 
sent from the American mind, and outbreaks due to such fears 
have always accompanied periods of rapid increase in immigration. 
Between 1830 and 1860 such increase was remarkable, and the out- 
bursts of opposition were frequent and violent. 

The news of the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Bill by the 
British Parliament was received with rejoicing by the Catholic Irish 
of America and was loudly deprecated by the Orangemen. The re- 
moval of the Catholics' civil disabilities in England was regarded by 
some as a triumph for civil liberties but by others as a victory for 
Catholicism. The failure of the Revolution of 1830 in Rome and 
the repressive policies of the pope as a temporal ruler were deplored 
by American liberals. 

These items of foreign news, however, were of concern to rela- 
tively few Americans. The words of the famous German scholar, 
Friedrich von Schlegel, brought the possibility of the expansion of 
Catholic power much closer home. Schlegel was a friend of Met- 
ternich and a counselor of legation in Vienna. In 1828 he gave a 
series of lectures in which he stressed the connection between mon- 
archy and Catholicism and assailed Protestantism and democracy 
alike. He called the United States the "nursery of revolution" and 
stated his belief that Catholic missions in the United States would 
serve as weapons against republicanism, noxious democratic notions, 
and heretical doctrines. 

Americans considered the Leopold Association, founded in 
Vienna a year later to promote missions in America, evidence of a 
plot of European despots against American democracy. In 1832 the 
Catholic Association for the Propagation of the Faith was founded 


in Lyons, France, and its funds began to flow into the United States 
for expenditure in every state but especially on the frontier. 

Other evidence of Catholic aggression was found in the provin- 
cial councils held in Baltimore at stated intervals beginning in 1829. 
Catholics were impressed by the ceremony and pomp of the coun- 
cils, and the press gave them much publicity. One of the chief con- 
cerns of the assembled prelates was the matter of counteracting 
rising anti-Catholic sentiment, and in a series of Pastoral Letters the 
clergy was instructed in the defense of its Catholic allegiance and 
was advised to be moderate in speech but watchful and sleepless in 
upholding the faith. A Catholic Tract Society and a Catholic maga- 
zine, the Metropolitan, provided further opportunities for the pro- 
mulgation of Catholic views. Much of this work of organizing 
Catholic defense was done by the vigorous and able Bishop of 
Charleston, John England, who made every effort to combat the 
idea that the church required any allegiance inimical to the civil 
government. 9 


Despite such efforts, however, the idea of Catholic aggression 
was quickly and deeply implanted in the receptive minds of Protes- 
tant ministers whose emotions had recently been raised to high 
pitch by the Great Revival. In 1830 a Northern newspaper first 
made the assertion seen and heard so often in the following years, 
that the Catholic church was serving as the agent of European gov- 
ernments in an effort to overthrow American democracy. From 
that time on the idea of a Catholic plot, secret and subversive, per- 
meated all Protestant argument. There were many variations of the 
supposed plot ranging from the idea that the West might be over- 
whelmed by Catholic immigrants to a rumor that the pope himself 
was to come to set up his domain in the Mississippi Valley. 

Of all those who spread this idea none was so explicit and em- 
phatic or more widely read than Lyman Beecher, whose Plea for 
the West was published in 1835. The book was an appeal for funds 
and for missionaries and preachers to save the West for Protes- 
tantism. It emphasized the menace of Catholic domination of the 
frontier states and portrayed Catholicism as undemocratic and un- 
American. Beecher held that the activities of a "corps of men acting 


systematically and perseveringly for its own ends" were especially 
dangerous in a republic. Working secretly through the "dread con- 
fessional" the Catholic powers of Europe could decide elections, 
influence policy, "inflame and divide the nation, break the bond of 
our union, and throw down our free institutions." The solution 
of the problem lay, for Beecher, in schools, preachers, and churches 
under Protestant control. 

Beecher was more than a little irritating to his Catholic oppo- 
nents in his calm assumption that, in an equal combat between the 
two faiths, it would be Catholicism that must yield, and in his dis- 
claimer of any desire to restrict or violate the religious and social 
liberties of the Catholic. All he wanted was to have them "come 
with their children under the full action of our common schools and 
republican institutions" so that their allegiance to the faith of their 
fathers might be weakened and the culture of their homelands for- 
gotten in a complete and unquestioning Americanism. In this de- 
sire Beecher saw no parallel to the proselyting endeavors of which 
he accused the Catholics. He was horrified at the thought of Protes- 
tant children being educated by priests and nuns, and, although he 
piously deplored violence and mob action, his openly expressed 
fears of religious warfare and Catholic plots were most incendiary. 
There was little of charity in Calvinism and little of discretion in 
the religious fervor of the transplanted Puritan. 

Soon after the appearance of Beecher's Plea for the West, Her- 
man Norton published a little book called Startling Facts for Ameri- 
can Protestants. Norton repeated the idea of a Catholic plot, assert- 
ing that Catholic emigration was being deliberately fostered by 
foreign powers toward the end of dominating Western settlement 
all to increase the desire for British imports in the United States! 

Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, was another emi- 
nent anti-Catholic writer. A son of Jedidiah Morse, he had been 
reared in Calvinism and had early imbibed a hatred of "Popery" 
that was intensified by his observation of the despotic rule of die 
pope during a visit to Rome in 1830. For twenty-five years he 
found time, in the midst of other labors, to write innumerable arti- 
cles for newspapers, several series of letters intended for publica- 
tion, and other longer works, all fulminating against the dangers of 
immigration and Catholicism in combination. In 1835 Morse pub- 


lished The Imminent Dangers to the Free Institutions of the United 
States through Foreign Immigration, in which he asserted that the 
Jesuits were "papal puppets" who had been instructed to undermine 
American liberties. The book was a stirring call to action, and its 
vigorous words provided nativism with its first slogans "Place 
your guards," "And first, shut your gates! " 


As the controversy developed, each side felt the need of a press 
through which its arguments might reach the public. The Catholics 
had, to begin with, Bishop England's United States Catholic Miscel- 
lany, which had been in existence since 1822; the Metropolitan, es- 
tablished by the provincial council in 1829; the Jesuit, published in 
Boston after 1829 (later called the Pilot) ; and the Truth Teller, a 
New York. paper started in 1825. In the work of answering the 
often vicious and slanderous attacks of the Protestant press, these 
were aided from time to time by other Catholic papers set up 
wherever the controversy happened to be raging. A militant bishop 
or priest was usually able to provide himself with a paper, and each 
hot debate was the occasion for founding some partisan sheet. 

The Protestants were soon even better supplied with press and 
propaganda agencies, for not only did they publish newspapers spe- 
cifically dedicated to exposing the evils of popery, but they were 
able to enlist the support of innumerable religious and semireligious 
newspapers and tract societies- The first anti-Catholic weekly was 
the Protestant, which appeared in New York City in 1830. After 
two years it was followed by the Reformation Advocate, which 
was in turn replaced by the Protestant Magazine, a monthly that 
lasted about a year. The Native American was published for the 
years 1837-40 in Washington, D. C. Other cities harbored for brief 
periods such sensational journals as Priestcraft Exposed (Concord, 
New Hampshire, 1834), the Spirit of '76 (New York City, 1835), 
the Anti-Romanist (New York City, 1834), and the Downfall of 
Babylon (Philadelphia and New York, 1834). As interest in the 
movement fluctuated, these papers were born, made or failed to 
make their appeal, and came to an end, to be followed by others 
probably under the same editors and the same auspices and with the 
same clientele. 


The panic of 1837 and the subsequent hard times helped to les- 
sen the propaganda barrage, but the early 1 840*5 saw a new flock 
of nativistic and anti-Catholic sheets. The number of antiforeign 
newspapers, addresses, pamphlets, and books reached its high point 
in the years of political nativism and fell off abruptly after the elec- 
tion of 1856. 

Public debates on the lecture platform or in print were a favor- 
ite polemic device of the 1830*8. Certain men became known as 
doughty defenders on one side or the other, and debates in which 
they participated were hailed by the public. The attack of the Rev- 
erend W. C. Brownlee, pastor of a Dutch Reformed church in New 
York City and editor of various anti-Catholic publications, was met 
in 1830 by three Catholic priests whose arguments were printed in 
the Truth Teller or in pamphlet form. 10 In Maryland and Pennsyl- 
vania the two Breckinridge brothers, John and Robert, led the Prot- 
estant attack and, in the latter state, found a worthy opponent in 
Father John Hughes, who was soon to be made Bishop of New 
York. In 1833 it was arranged that John Breckinridge should pub- 
lish in the Presbyterian and Hughes in the Catholic Herald articles 
on various phases of the topic "Is the Protestant Religion the Re- 
ligion of Christ?" The series dragged on for more than six months 
without satisfaction to contestants or to readers. During the same 
months a similar contest was waged in New York between Brown- 
lee and Father Levine, in which Brownlee refused to stick to any 
subject and supported every argument with vituperation instead of 
with proof. The Catholics finally announced that they could no 
longer debate with him, for 

To continue polemic discussion with you cannot aid to reputation, for 
y our substitutes for arguments are falsehood, ribald words, gross invec- 
tive, disgusting calumny, and the recommendation of an obscene tale. 
Those have been your weapons from your first to your last puerile 
letter, 11 

In 1835 an oral debate that both sides had long awaited was ar- 
ranged between Hughes and Breckinridge, the subject to be whether 
either the Roman Catholic or the Presbyterian teachings were in- 
imical to civil or religious liberty. The debate ran for twelve eve- 
nings and was attended by large audiences, made up in part of the 
lowest elements of the population of Philadelphia. Again a Catholic 


logician met a revivalistic Calvinist convinced of the evils of pop- 
ery, and the contest was without dignity or good result. 

In the West the controversy reached its climax in 1837 in a de- 
bate in Cincinnati between Bishop Purcell and Alexander Campbell, 
the founder of the Campbellite church. Both men were Irish; both 
were excellent debaters. There were seven meetings and seven sub- 
jects. The debates began at nine-thirty each morning, and the 
speeches were long, educational, and historical. Campbell's final ar- 
gument probably represented local Protestant opinion: 

The Roman Catholic religion, if infallible and unsusceptible of reforma- 
tion, as alleged, is essentially anti-American, being opposed to the genius 
of all free institutions, and positively subversive of them, opposing the* 
general knowledge among the whole community, so essential to liberty 
and the permanency of good government. 12 

When a member of a Charleston temperance society likened the 
Catholic system of indulgences to the state licensing system, assert- 
ing that an indulgence was a sale of permission to sin before the 
sinful act was perpetrated, Bishop John England rose to the defense 
of the church and engaged Richard Fuller, a Baptist clergyman, in 
debate. The argument ran for some months in 1839 in the columns 
of the Charleston Courier, covering a variety of subjects, from the 
morals of the priesthood to the state of affairs in Ireland. This was 
the last and one of the most interesting of the discussions. After 
nearly a decade of oral and Britten debates both Catholics and 
Protestants came to realize their futility, and after 1840 other meth- 
ods of propaganda received more attention. 


Anti-Catholic proponents added to their own numbers and car- 
ried on the attack against their enemy by the method of voluntary 
association so beloved by contemporary advocates of reform. The 
first Protestant association, organized in New York City in 1831, 
was succeeded four years later by the Society for the Diffusion of 
Christian Knowledge, with Brownlee as its first president and the 
conversion of Catholics to Protestantism as its purpose. A similar 
society, headed by a William Hoyt, was intended to operate among 
the Catholics in Canada. In 1-836 the Protestant Reformation So- 
ciety was formed to coordinate the work of converting "Papists 


to Christianity" and distributing anti-Catholic information. Mis- 
sionaries were sent out, publication was undertaken, ministers were 
pledged to give anti-Catholic addresses, and the society spoke 
through its own organ, the American Protestant Vindicator. 

The net result of all the agitation was the inculcation of fear and 
hatred. Public meetings attended by the more violent elements of 
the urban population and the exhortations of street preachers often 
ended in rioting or street fights. The Irish of New York and other 
cities gladly defended themselves and their religion and, indeed, 
often provoked attack. Riotous crowds were inevitably attracted to 
the nearest visible evidence of the enemy, and the anger of the mob 
was wreaked on Catholic institutions. St. Mary's Church in New 
York City was burned in 183 1, in the first of many such fiery sub- 
stitutes for argument. 

One of the best known of Catholic institutions was the Ursuline 
convent school in Charlestown, a suburb of Boston. The convent 
had been founded in the early 1820*8 and by 1834 was patronized 
by many of the best families of Boston. Of its sixty or more pupils 
about forty were Protestant girls, many of them the daughters of 
wealthy Unitarians. Orthodox Congregationalists countered by es- 
tablishing a rival school, whose lack of success increased their dis- 
like of the Ursulines, and they preached sermons against Catholicism 
in general and convents in particular. Local antipathy was increased 
by the friction between Irish Catholic and native laborers, which 
had resulted in riots half a dozen times before i834. 18 

Antagonism was intensified by the story of Rebecca Reed, a girl 
who claimed to have escaped from the convent after terrible experi- 
ences. It was quickly shown that Rebecca Reed was not a nun or 
even a novice, but just a dismissed servant of the convent, but this 
did little to counteract her dramatic tale. Soon excitement deepened 
again when a nun, Elizabeth Harrison, fled from the convent while 
temporarily deranged because of overwork and ill-health. She soon 
recovered and later voluntarily returned to the convent, but again 
the damage was done. 

On the night of Sunday, August 10, 1834, Lyman Beecher de- 
livered three violently anti-Catholic sermons in different Boston 
churches. Whether or not any members of the mob that formed the 
next day had listened to Beecher is unknown, but he was afterward 


accused of having instigated its action. The mob advanced upon the 
Ursuline convent, and the police were entirely unable or unwill- 
ing to control it. The convent was burned and the nuns and their 
pupils were given barely time enough to escape to near-by refuges. 
For a number of days rioting mobs roamed the streets, and only 
the efforts of Bishop Fenwick prevented the Irish laborers living in 
railroad camps outside Boston from advancing on the city. Catholic 
churches were protected by troops, and Irish laborers guarded their 
homes, while Harvard students patroled the Yard to protect the 
college from violence. It was an ominous evidence of the effective- 
ness of the anti-Catholic propaganda that the trial of the leaders of 
the mob was a farce in which the nuns were insulted and the Catho- 
lic church reviled, and that legislators were so intimidated by their 
constituents that they dared make no reparation. 


The clerical zealots whose natural habitat was the revival sought 
effective anti-Catholic argument in charges that the priesthood was 
corrupt and evil, that nuns were immoral, and that through the 
confessional and the Catholic schools such baseness was carried over 
to the laity. No story was too obscene, no insinuation too base, and 
no conclusion too farfetched for Brownlee, Hoyt, and others of 
their guild. Books so salacious that they would have had no sale in 
decent circles except for their pseudo-religious character were read 
in hundreds of pious homes. Ministers, dutifully fulfilling their 
pledge to preach against popery, went to such tracts for ammuni- 
tion, and their hearers spread the tales still farther. Such propaganda 
was difficult to combat and was most incendiary. 

Even when the tales of horrors perpetrated in convents were re- 
duced to absurdity by exposure and by their very multiplicity, they 
were still repeated with gusto by the leaders of the anti-Catholic 
crQsade and accepted by the gullible. The burning of the Ursuline 
convent was the signal for an outpouring of accounts, true and fabri- 
cated, of life in convents in the United States, in Canada, in Cuba, and 
in Europe. The series began in 1835 with the printing of Rebecca 
Reed's relatively tame Six Months in a Convent. In the case of this, 
as of other such accounts, a publisher saw the possibility of capital- 
izing upon a popular issue, and the immediate wide sale of the book 


was an incentive to other editors to produce stories of convent life 

ai\d misdeeds. 

The most popular and most lurid of such accounts was Maria 
Monk's Awful Disclosures of the Hdtel Dieu Nunnery of Mont- 
real, which appeared in January 1836. The book was apparently 
dictated by Maria Monk to Theodore Dwight, great-grandson 
of Jonathan Edwards, was edited by George Bourne and W. C. 
Brownlee of the anti-Catholic propaganda brotherhood, and was 
published by men connected with Harper & Brothers publishing 
house, which did not itself care to handle so controversial a volume. 
Maria herself seems to have been aided in her "escape" from Canada 
to New York City by William Hoyt, the head of the bureau de- 
voted to the spread of anti-Catholicism in Canada. 

The story was that of a girl of Protestant parentage who was sent 
to a convent school to be educated. She embraced Catholicism and 
resolved to become a nun, entering the Hotel Dieu in Montreal. 
The obscenities that made up the rest of the book were suggested 
rather than described. Instructed by the Mother Superior to obey 
the priests in all things, Maria joined the other novices and the nuns 
in a prostitute's life. The nunnery was connected with the priests' 
house by a secret passage, there was a pit in the convent cellar 
where the bodies of the babies were buried, and the Mother Supe- 
rior alone kept a record of the births and deaths. Maria herself es- 
caped and reached New York before the birth of her child, whose 
father, she claimed, was one of the priests in Montreal. And there 
the first edition ended. 

The task of separating truth from fiction in this fantastic tale was 
immediately undertaken both by outraged Catholics and by disin- 
terested Protestants. Catholic authorities in Montreal quite properly 
refused to descend into the arena in their own defense, but their 
champions published a book called The Awful Exposure of the 
Atrocious Plot Formed by Certain Individuals against the Clergy 
and Nuns of Lower Canada, through the Intervention of Maria 
Monk. Maria, it was proved by the words of her own mother, had 
never been a Catholic or an inmate of a convent but had been from 
childhood both defective and delinquent. Whether or not the Aw- 
ful Disclosures had been the product of her own imagination or of 
ideas suggested to her by the group of New York anti-Catholics 


was uncertain. It was intimated that the father of her child was the 
same William Hoyt under whose auspices she had appeared in New 

Eventually the Bishop of Montreal permitted an investigation of 
the convent, and no evidence of a secret passage or a burial pit 
could be discovered. The investigators declared the institution 
cleared of blame and asserted that Maria was an impostor, but her 
New York supporters and the American public refused to be con- 
vinced despite all proof. Brownlee angrily exclaimed that those 
who wished to believe the traducers of Maria Monk could do so; he 
was satisfied with her unsupported word. 

The sale of Mark's book exceeded all expectations, and the pub- 
lic interest was kept up by a second edition in the summer of 1836, 
carrying the tale through the harrying details of Maria's escape and 
experiences in New York. In 1837 Further Disclosures capitalized 
on the continued interest in the girl's adventures. 

All save those who chose to believe the story because it fitted 
their own preconceived ideas of Catholic institutions lost faith in 
the tale of Mark Monk in 1838 when she became the mother of a 
second illegitimate child. Deserted by her erstwhile defenders, she 
died in prison in 1849, a ft er her arrest for picking the pocket of her 
companion in a house of ill fame. 

Despite the refutation of the story of Maria Monk, the willing- 
ness of the American public to buy, read, and believe such tales ex- 
cited the cupidity of propagandists and publishers. Anti-Catholic 
leaders in other cities vied with New York in producing "escaped" 
nuns, and editors were eager to publish their accounts. Samuel B. 
Smith of Philadelphia, apostate priest and editor of the Downfall of 
Babylon, backed The Escape of Sainte Frances Patrick, Another 
Nun from the Hdtel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal and also published 
Rosamond, or a Narrative of the Captivity and Sufferings of an 
American Female, under the Papish Priests in the Island of Cuba. 
Rosamond was full of vile insinuations and included an incredible 
tale of a plot of Cuban priests to capture young Negroes, kill them, 
and grind them up for sale as sausage meat. The life story of Edith 
O'Gorman, Convent Life Unveiled, got a wide reading for its cruel 
and obscene account of the betrayal of the confessional and of the 
relations between priests and nuns. It seems obvious today that the 


writers and publishers of most of these pornographic books looked 
upon the anti-Catholic crusade as a money-making business and ex- 
ploited their opportunities to the fullest extent. As a Catholic critic 
of the Maria Monk affair stated, the whole enterprise was the work 
of "a few needy adventurers, reverend and unreverend." 14 What- 
ever the cause for their publication, however, there can be no doubt 
that they conditioned the American mind to violent anti-Catholicism 
and predisposed it to an intolerance and a persecution that were 
alien to American ideology. 

This outpouring of horror tales did not go unchallenged by the 
conservative element among the Protestants. Dr. David Reese, who 
condemned ultraism in all its forms, protested vigorously against 
those who "go beyond the Bible in their principles." Admitting that 
the papacy had often been corrupt and accepting many of the 
charges against Catholic immigrants, he yet deplored intolerance 
and persecution: 

[A] formidable objection to the measures of those who are waging war 
against Popery in our country, is found in the demoralizing influence 
of most of their publications. Tales of lust, and blood, and murder, such 
as those with which the ultra-protestant press is teeming, in all the 
loathsome and disgusting details in which they are recited; and espe- 
cially whfen they are represented as transpiring under the cloak of re- 
ligion, and the criminals occupying and disgracing the holy office of 
the ministry, are adapted in the very nature of things to strengthen the 
hands of infidelity and irreUgion. Nor can any virtuous mind of either 
sex, fail to contract impurity by the perusal of such publications as 
those we have described. ... if the deplorable moral influence they 
are exerting upon the young at present, were justly appreciated, all such 
works . . . would be burned by the common hangman. 15 


European travelers who noticed the growing anti-Catholicism 
were quick to see its connection with immigration, which they 
played a part in stimulating. Before 1800 emigrants must have left 
their homelands with much apprehension as to what lay ahead of 
them in the unknown world after the weeks or months of ocean 
voyage. Early emigration had been by groups that had severed their 
connection with the Old World, and few emigrants had written or 
returned to report on life overseas. That great opportunities and 
great wealth awaited their coming was a familiar idea to Europeans, 


but the way of life to which they must adapt themselves was un- 

After 1815 all this was changed. Almost innumerable travelers 
visited the United States and wrote accounts of their observations; 
the letters of immigrants were read in hundreds of Old World vil- 
lages; and money was sent to provide for the migration of families 
and relatives. Industrialization and its attendant shifts in population 
and occupation set Europeans in motion. Political and economic 
unrest made countless thousands anxious to emigrate, and news of 
the labor shortages in the United States led them to New York, 
Boston, Philadelphia, or New Orleans. 

America became the common man's Utopia. As one immigrant 
wrote, in Europe one often heard the expression "a poor man with 
many children," but in America a man with many children soon 
ceased to be poor. "Mr. Malthus," he exclaimed, "would not be un- 
derstood here." 16 There were farms for those who wanted to farm 
and work for those who had no capital, but the very numbers 
in which they answered the summons meant that native workers 
would meet them with antagonism as well as with opportunities. In 
the decade between 1820 and 1830 about one hundred and fifty 
thousand immigrants came into the ports of the United States. That 
number was quadrupled in the next decade. Between 1840 and 1850 
more than a million and a half, and in the next ten years nearly two 
and a half million more, entered the United States. 

Of these hundreds of thousands many were Irish Catholics who 
settled in the industrial cities of the East, and many more were Ger- 
man Catholics who followed the lines of travel westward and set- 
tied in the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. While their 
Catholicism made them objects of suspicion for the anti-Catholics, 
their f oreignness and their competition irritated the American-born 
laborers, and their poverty and illiteracy, their drinking habits, and 
their improvidence exasperated the taxpayer and alarmed the social 
reformer. As early as 1 8 1 9 the Society for the Prevention of Pauper- 
ism in the city of New York called attention to the destitution of 
the immigrant population and to the expense of caring for immi- 
grant paupers. 

Soon the charge was heard that Europe was dumping its poor 
and its criminals upon the United States and that the emigration of 


these classes was made possible by government subsidies. Studies of 
the reports of prisons and almshouses showed that in the Eastern 
cities the foreign-born inmates of such institutions outnumbered the 
native-born. 17 American consuls reported that from Ireland, from 
Liverpool and Leeds, and from Hamburg emigrants were departing 
with the blessing of local authorities expressed in steamship tickets. 
Other statistics were offered to show the terrible conditions in 
which many immigrants lived and the devastating effect of epi- 
demic diseases upon the hordes existing in cellars and crowded tene- 
ments. The kbor troubles of the 1830*8 were blamed upon the 
immigrant laborers, and the fact that many of them were living on 
starvation wages and were being cheated by American contractors 
into the bargain did not mitigate their offense. 

Living in crowded quarters in the city slums, the Irish immigrants 
easily organized in street gangs whose headquarters were in corner 
stores or neighborhood saloons. The pursuits, of the gangs were 
sometimes legal and social, sometimes illegal and even criminal, often 
violent and riotous. In combination these gangs were uncontrol- 
lable, and the police were helpless. Election days were often riot 
days, and anti-Catholic street preachers were lucky if their audi- 
ences were not dispersed by a horde of angry Irish. Marching militia 
and companies of soldiers from the regular army were an everyday 
sight in the seacoast cities, for calling out the troops was the usual 
procedure when a riot lasted more than a few hours. As nativism 
developed, the gangs divided sharply into foreign- and native-born, 
and the American Guards of the Bowery hated the Irish with a 
ferocity equaled only by that of the Irish for the Guards. Colorful 
though they may have been, these gangs were a nightmare for the 
city fathers and convenient tools 'for agitators. 

American nativism of the period before 1840 was made up, 
therefore, of diverse elements. Anti-Catholicism was an important 
factor; economic competition, social problems, and nativist antipa- 
thies complicated the picture. 

When in some cities from one third to one half of the voters 
were foreign-born and nearly all the foreign-born voted for one 
party, the formation of a nativist party or the adoption of nativist 
principles by the minority party was a step readily taken. In 1837 a 
nativist party appeared in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and in the 


same year similar organizations were formed in Washington, D. G, 
and in New York City. These Native American parties called for a 
new naturalization law extending the required period of residence 
to twenty-one years. Their members pledged themselves to vote for 
no foreign-born candidates, to keep the Bible in the public schools, 
and to "resist encroachment of foreign civil or spiritual powers 
upon the institutions of our country." They went into elections 
with the slogan "No Irish Catholic Ticket" and were at once an- 
swered by the angry immigrants with a cry of "Irishmen! to Your 
Posts!" and by parades of men carrying banners displaying the sign 
of the cross and the words "In Union Is Our Strength!" The scene 
was set for trouble when the financial debacle of 1837 put an end, 
temporarily, to the rising tide of immigration and to the agitation 
against the Catholic and the foreigner. 


One of the questions of importance in the period of the 1840*8 
was that of trusteeship in the control of Catholic church property. 
The problem was not new; clergy and laity had struggled over it in 
many parishes since the appointment of the first bishop in the 
United States. Protestant interest in the question in the 1840'$ and 
early 1850'$ was due in part to the fact that the controversy of that 
day was in New York, the center of the nativistic movement, in 
part to the fact that lay control of church property seemed more 
democratic and more American, and in part to the fact that the 
champion of the rights of the clergy was Bishop Hughes, an antag- 
onist worthy of the steel of any or all of the anti-Catholic pro- 

When John Hughes became bishop-coadjutor of the New York 
diocese in 1838, he at once sent a pastoral address to the congrega- 
tion of his own cathedral acknowledging the legality of the trustees' 
control over church property but warning them against interfer- 
ence with clergy or sacraments. Several of the Catholic churches of 
New York City were heavily in debt. Given no aid by the bishop, 
they were forced into bankruptcy. When their property was put 
up for sale, the bishop bought it through agents and thus was able 
to extend his control. 18 

In 1842 Bishop Hughes felt that he was in a position to go far- 


ther. He therefore appealed to the churches throughout the diocese 
to surrender voluntarily all claim to control over church property. 
With one exception the churches agreed and made arrangements to 
surrender their property. The exception was the Church of St. 
Louis in Buffalo, where the recalcitrant trustees created contro- 
versy for more than a decade. At no time was the opinion of New 
York Protestants asked for, but they broke forth in protest and 
assailed the bishop for denying the rights of the Catholic laity 
and for acting in contempt of American liberties. The bishop, in his 
usual caustic vein, published a satirical "apology" in the form of a 
letter to "David Hale, Esq., who is a Congregationalist in religion; 
W. L. Stone, Esq., who is some kind of a Presbyterian; M. M. Noah, 
Esq., who is a Jew; and the editor (whose name I do not know) of a 
little paper called The Aurora." " 

Another problem that aroused much controversy in New York 
in this period was that of the distribution of school funds. As the 
Catholic population grew the Catholic schools were quite inade- 
quate, few immigrant parents could afford to pay school fees, and 
few parishes could afford to provide free parochial schools. Since 
the clergy maintained that the public schools were sectarian and 
anti-Catholic, few Catholic children attended them, and thousands 
of New York children were not in school at all. In 1838 John A. 
Dix, secretary of state and ex ofEcio superintendent of schools, 
opened the question by advocating that religious instruction in the 
schools be limited to a reading of the Bible "without note or com- 
ment." This could not satisfy the Catholics, however, for the Bible 
used was, of course, the King James version, and, besides, the texts 
used in the public schools were biased in their treatment of religious 

Concerned because of the illiteracy of the children of the 
foreign-born and convinced of the justice of many of the Catholic 
criticisms, Governor Seward said in his annual message to the legis- 
lature in 1840: 

The children of foreigners ... are too often deprived of the advan- 
tages of our system of public education, in consequence of prejudices 
arising from difference of language or religion. It ought never to be for- 
gotten that the public welfare is as deeply concerned in their education 
as in that of our own children. I do not hesitate, therefore, to recom- 
mend the establishment of schools in which they may be instructed by 


teachers speaking the same language with themselves and professing the 
same faith. 20 

As Seward's biographer, Frederic Bancroft, says, this proposition 
was a firebrand. Every anti-Catholic in the state was aroused, and 
the partisan sectarian press burst into denunciation. The Catho- 
lics, on the other hand, considered it a move toward allocating state 
funds to parochial schools and applied for a share of the grants to 
the Public School Society on the grounds that attendance in the 
public schools was a violation of the Catholic conscience and that 
Catholics must therefore either submit to double taxation or let 
their children go uneducated. 

The Public School Society replied that any such move would be 
"unconstitutipnal and inexpedient," that the money could not be 
spared, and that the charge of sectarianism was unfair, since the 
society employed six Catholic teachers. When the Catholic appli- 
cation was made public, a Hebrew school and one operated by a 
Scotch-Presbyterian church also asked for aid. The city fathers held 
a public hearing at which all Catholic complaints were aired, but 
the Board of Assistant Aldermen that had been given control of the 
matter refused the Catholic request. A gesture of conciliation was 
made, however, in the appointment of a committee to purge the 
textbooks of references unfair to the Catholics, and there was a 
great byplay of erasing or blotting out paragraphs and pasting pages 
together measures altogether ineffective, because the mutilated 
volumes soon wore out and were replaced by unexpurgated ones. 

After another unsuccessful attempt by Bishop Hughes to secure 
favorable action by the aldermen, in April 1841 the state superin- 
tendent recommended that the Public School Society be replaced 
by the state system of schools in New York City, and that a school 
commission be elected in each ward to administer funds and regu- 
late school affairs. In this way Catholic wards could at least be 
assured of impartial treatment and of -religious instruction that 
conformed to their wishes. The Public School Society opposed this 
project, the anti-Catholic press rushed into action, and the school 
question became a political issue. Seward urged the legislature to 
carry out the superintendent's recommendation, cleverly putting 
the issue on the broad basis of the need for providing education for 
the poor. 


The Catholics, in the meantime, had become convinced that the 
plan of the state superintendent was the best they could get, and 
Hughes sought to convince the Democratic party, to which most of 
the Irish belonged, of its need of Catholic support. When he failed 
to secure any pledge of aid from the Democrats, he authorized a 
Catholic ticket, and in the election the Hughes party polled more 
than two thousand votes, thus causing a Whig-Nativist victory by 
a margin of less than three hundred. The disciplined Democrats did 
not again forget their dependence on the Catholics, but Hughes and 
his church won the opprobrium of thousands for carrying a reli- 
gious issue into politics, and the anti-Catholics shouted that the ac- 
tion was proof of the power of the pope to overturn democratic 
institutions. 21 

The new school law was passed in 1842 despite the furor of the 
Protestant press, and the public school question ceased to be an is- 
sue in the state of New York. The nativists continued to be active, 
however, and in the next year organized as the American Republi- 
can party, with a newspaper of their own, the American Citizen. 

The contest was then transferred to Philadelphia, where in 1842 
Bishop Kenrick wrote a letter to the school authorities complaining 
about the reading of the Protestant version of the Bible in the 
schools and asking that Catholic children be allowed to use their 
, own Bibles and be excused from all religious instruction. When the 
school board complied with his request, the Protestant clergy and 
the American Protestant Association were up in arms. In pamphlets 
and newspapers the Catholics were accused of trying "to kick the 
Bible out of the schools." Mass meetings were held throughout the 
city, and Protestant speakers aroused the passions of their audiences 
by intemperate language. 

The industrial suburb of Kensington, where many Irish laborers 
lived, was especially affected. The nativists organized into an Ameri- 
can Republican party, and in May 1844 excitement there was at 
fever pitch. When the Protestants defied the Kensington Catholics 
by attempting to hold a big nativist mass meeting in their midst, the 
fight was on. The meeting was broken up by a crowd of militant 
Irish, but the anti-Catholic forces were convened again for an out- 
door rally three days later, with an ominous appeal to the public to 
"sustain them against the assaults of Aliens and Foreigners." 


The nativists came out in full strength, supported by rowdies 
from the slums of the city who were eager for a fight with the 
hated Irish. The riot was started probably by a shot fired from 
the windows of the near-by headquarters of a fire department unit 
manned by the militant Irish and a struggle began that lasted for 
some days, in the course of which several men were killed and many 
more wounded. St. Michael's and St. Augustine's churches were 
burned, Catholic schools were attacked, the militia was called out, 
and the crew of U.S.S. Princeton was landed in an effort to restore 
order. Many Catholics fled from their homes but later returned to 
enter a campaign of charges and countercharges in the hearings 
held after the riot was over. 

On the Fourth of July the American Protestant Association 
staged a huge parade with banners, bands, and floats indicating their 
anti-Catholic, antif oreign opinions, and more riots followed, neces- 
sitating the calling in of five thousand state troops. But in the 1844 
election the nativists carried the city. 

New York nativists were aroused by the excitement in Philadel- 
phia, and the New York American Republican invited violence by 
heading a description of the riots with the slogan "The Voice of 
Blood," saying, "A revolution has begun. 'Blood will have Blood.' 
It cannot sink into the earth and be forgotten. The gory vision will 
rise like the ghost of the murdered Banquo, and call for revenge." 22 
When the anti-Catholic mob started on a campaign of pillage and 
fire, however, the doughty Bishop Hughes inquired of the authori- 
ties whether the city and state were prepared to pay for damage 
done the property of the Catholic church, and, upon receipt of a 
negative answer, he stationed between one and two thousand fully 
armed Irish guards in and about each Catholic church. The Ameri- 
can Republicans were furious, but there was nothing to do but call 
off their mass meetings and calm their more violent members. Bishop 
Hughes saved New York from riots that might easily have been 
more disastrous than those in Philadelphia, which, he said, were the 
result of Catholic weakness. 

The Catholic Freeman's Journal pointed out that in defending 
their houses and churches, even with violence, the Catholics were 
not violating but upholding the law, and that they were justified in 
repelling aggression at all hazards. In New York as in Philadelphia 


the American Republican party, through a fusion with the Whigs, 
carried the city in the 1844 election. 

The victories in Philadelphia and New York encouraged the na- 
tivists to think the time had come for the creation of a national anti- 
foreign, anti-Catholic party, and they held a national convention in 
1845 at which one hundred and fifty-one delegates represented 
fourteen states. They estimated their own strength at more than one 
hundred thousand voters, but either this estimate was exaggerated 
or the interest in nativism was rapidly waning, for in local elections 
in 1845 and 1846 the party made a poor showing. Its vote in New 
York, for example, was but two per cent of the state's total. Texas, 
the Mexican War, and the slavery issue overshadowed the machina- 
tions of the Catholics, and the country was entering upon a new 
boom period, in which foreign labor and immigrant farmers could 
be assimilated. 


The saga of the escaped nun and the salacious story of clerical 
corruption declined in popularity after the middle thirties. In order 
to broaden their movement the Protestant associations found it 
necessary to reduce the emotional content of their propaganda and 
to produce genuine argument once more. Mass meetings were con- 
demned as conducive to violence, and anti-Catholic speakers were 
sent to churches and lyceum or lecture groups instead. Anti-Catholic 
tracts replaced the tales of clerical wickedness, and new societies 
were formed to aid in their distribution and to discuss local prob- 
lems in relation to the Catholic church and the immigrant. The 
American Protestant Union, with S. F. B. Morse as president, was 
formed to act as a national society, and local Protestant institutes or 
unions were organized in large cities to arrange lectures and pro- 
vide information. New periodicals and newspapers were published, 
and old ones became more tolerant, or at least changed their type of 
argument to conform to the new trend. Religious journals and even 
such secular periodicals as the New England Magazine catered to 
the interest of their readers by publishing arguments against Rome, 
historical sketches, and stories with an anti-Catholic motif. 

In the contest thus put back on a theological basis the Presbyteri- 
ans were probably the most active and might have led the educa- 
tional campaign had it not been for the schism within the church. 


The attention of the General Assembly of the Methodist Church 
through the forties was concentrated on the slavery controversy, 
and the dangers to be feared from Rome were forgotten in the anx- 
iety over the cleavage between North and South. The Congrega- 
tionalist clergy gave some support to the anti-Catholic cause, and 
they were joined, strangely enough, by the Episcopalians, who nor- 
mally stayed rather aloof from reform movements. The Oxford 
movement in England had brought a branch of the Anglican church 
very close to Catholicism, some high church Anglicans veered to- 
ward the doctrines of auricular confession and clerical celibacy, 
and a few Anglicans of note crossed over to the Catholic church. 
Episcopalians viewed these tendencies with alarm and, low church 
to begin with, emphasized their Protestantism. Baptist, Lutheran, 
and Dutch Reformed clergy also went on record against the men- 
ace of Catholicism. 

In 1842 the American Protestant Association was organized to 
coordinate the efforts of all anti-Catholic groups. It held national 
meetings, issued reports and addresses, and published its own maga- 
zine. It was finally possible, as the association's Address of 1843 
stated, "to see the Protestant interests of the country united in a 
peaceful, enlightened, and vigorous opposition to the aggressive 
movements of the Papal Hierarchy against the civil and religious 
liberties of the United States." 

One of the ablest of the new school of protagonists was the Rev- 
erend Nicholas Murray, a Presbyterian minister of New Jersey. He 
was an Irishman by birth and of Catholic parentage. Between 1847 
and 1855 he wrote three series of letters to Bishop Hughes that 
were published in the New York Observer under the pseudonym 
"Kirwan." In the letters every phase of Catholic doctrine and prac- 
tice was considered miracles, prayers for those in purgatory, con- 
fession, and celibacy. Murray especially deplored the effect of pop- 
ery on human liberty and besought Americans to defend the land 
of freedom from an insidious enemy that 

... has never permitted a spark of liberty to glow for an hour when it 
could extinguish it. There is not in Europe, at the present hour per- 
haps not on earth a greater civil despot than the Pope. The man that, 
in Italy, writes a page, or makes a speech in favor or liberty, must fly 
the kingdom, or be dragged to a dungeon. ... It is equally the foe of 
mental liberty. The Bible is without authority, save what your church 


gives it. And the Bible must teach nothing save what your church al- 
lows. And man must believe nothing save what the priest permits. 
And philosophers must teach nothing save what the church sanc- 
tions. . . . And what has been the effect of popery upon the happiness 
of our race? . . . Oh! sir, the pathway of popery through the world 
is marked by the blood and bones of its victims. 28 

It must have been a relief to the Catholics to face arguments 
rather than scandals and atrocity tales. For Catholic theologians had 
had ample training in history and were more skilled in dialectic than 
their opponents. Bishop Hughes of New York and Bishop Spalding 
of Louisville wrote several pieces that had a very wide sale. Hughes' 
Moral Causes that have Produced the Evil Spirit of the Times was 
read by more than a hundred thousand in New York City alone. 
Bishop Spalding's Review of D'Aubigne was an effective refutation 
of the French author's praise of Luther and Calvin. Catholic writers 
had long stressed their adherence to American principles of reli- 
gious toleration; they now advanced to the position that Catholi- 
cism was not inimical to American institutions but was, indeed, 
necessary for their success. In an Address to the Impartial Public on 
the Intolerant Spirit of the Times, Bishop Spalding pointed out that 
Catholics had originated many of the principles of freedom em- 
bodied in the Constitution and that in the periods of Huss and Lu- 
ther the opponents of Catholicism had been no more tolerant than 
the Catholics themselves. 

In this period several able converts came to the aid of the Catho- 
lic apologists. When Orestes Brownson became a Catholic in 1844 
the effect on American literary circles was marked. At once he 
threw his energies into the defense of the church and tried to con- 
vince Americans that there was nothing menacing in Catholicism, 
and Catholics that their church could grow in America only by be- 
coming American and by ridding itself of its distinctively foreign 
leadership and characteristics. He spoke to his friends in the various 
reform movements, urging them to cease their attacks on Catholics: 

You kill reason, you murder the soul, you assassinate conscience, you 
sap society, render order impossible, take from law its moral force, 
from our homes all sanctity, from our lives all security, and leave us a 
prey to all the low, base, beastly, cruel, violent, wild, and destructive 
propensities and passions of fallen nature. O, mock us not with the 
words, Brotherhood, Fraternal Love, Universal Peace. 24 


In his essays and editorials Brownson presented Catholic doctrine to 
American readers in convincing form, and in two essays on the 
Philadelphia riots, he pleaded the cause of the immigrant, pointing 
out that nativists were acting contrary to true Americanism, since 
America had been built by immigrants and had profited from their 
services and their cultural contributions. 

In the same year that Brownson became a Catholic his friend and 
fellow Transcendentalist, Isaac Hecker, took the same step. Hecker 
became a Redemptorist priest and organized the order of Paulist 
fathers, devoting the rest of his life to the missionary work of the 
Catholic church in America. Rejecting Protestantism as unreason- 
able and full of discord, he coupled his Catholic doctrine with the 
liberal American faith that had developed through his long connec- 
tion with the reform movements and constantly endeavored to 
prove that only in the church could true safety for democratic in- 
stitutions be found. In his books, The Questions of the Soul and 
Aspirations of Nature, he presented Catholicism as the real goal of 
man's religious progress. 


The violent anti-Catholicism of the years from 1843 to 1845 had 
no sooner died down and the brief period of political nativism 
come to its end than events occurred to revive both movements. 
The terrible famine in Ireland in 1846 and the failure of the Revo- 
lutions of 1848 on the Continent were causes for a rapid increase of 
emigration. Between 1850 and 1860 the number of foreign-born in 
the United States nearly doubled, the Northwest became the home 
of German liberals and freethinkers, and the Catholic Irish flocked 
into the labor camps and the industrial towns. They came in such 
numbers that they could live in groups retaining their Old World 
language, culture, and way of life. 

American prejudice was again aroused by the very alien lives of 
the newcomers. A temperance newspaper wailed, "It does not lessen 
the desire for a Maine law to live near a Bier Halle and band of 
music every Sabbath. Let the Germans respect our customs if they 
want us to respect theirs." 25 The sight of German bands and of 
singing and dancing societies in full German costume was only 
slightly less alarming than that of drilling, semimilitary groups 


shouting orders in a foreign language, American citizens refused to 
excuse the violence of the "wild Irish" railroad gangs that enlivened 
the Saturday nights of so many American towns, even though they 
could observe their dutiful attendance upon the Catholic church 
the next morning. 

The Irish easily became the tools of city politicians, but it was 
the radical demands of the Germans that struck alarm into the 
hearts of Americans. The German- American Association listed as 
its objectives complete manhood suffrage, the election of all offi- 
cials, the abolition of the President and the Senate, the recall of 
officers, easier amendment of the Constitution, a department of the 
national government to protect immigrants, American intervention 
in behalf of downtrodden liberals abroad, complete religious free- 
dom, and a shorter term of residence for citizenship. 26 The Free 
Germans of Louisville adopted a platform in 1854 condemning the 
Fugitive Slave Law, declaring refigion to be an absolutely private 
matter, demanding a homestead law, and advocating free trade, 
women's suffrage, and an aggressive foreign policy. It was no won- 
der that Americans felt the world was spinning too rapidly for 

The first reaction was the formation of secret societies to combat 
foreign influence, to secure thoroughly American candidates for 
office, and to advance the interests of American workingmen. The 
Native Sons of America seems to have been the first of such groups. 
It was founded in 1844, as was the American Brotherhood, later 
called the Order of United Americans, which had the United 
Daughters of America as an auxiliary. Mutual benefit features made 
the Order of United American Mechanics more than just an anti- 
foreign organization. The Order of the Star-Spangled Banner was 
founded in 1850, as was the Order of the Sons of the Sires of 9 j6. 
By 1852 there were nearly sixty nativistic bodies in New York, and 
they made some effort to unite upon candidates for local elections. 
Philadelphia produced the Order of the Sons of America in 1844 
and later the Benevolent Order of Bereans. 

This revived nativism at once showed its violent side. There were 
riots all over the country, especially on election days but often 
begun by some street quarrel. Stones were thrown through the win- 
dows of a Catholic church in Boston, a Turnverein hall in Cincin- 


nati was attacked, a Catholic church was blown up in Massachusetts, 
Catholic church services were rotten-egged in Maine, and a priest 
was tarred and feathered. Anti-Catholic street speakers were guarded 
by bands of youthful roughnecks called Wide- Awakes, whose sec- 
ondary aim was to provoke the Irish to attack them. 

In 1852 an ex-priest, Alessandro Gavazzi, traveled about the 
country to "destroy the Pope," lecturing on all sorts of anti-Catholic 
subjects. A certain John Orr capitalized on the excitement worked 
up by Gavazzi and under the name of the Angel Gabriel spoke on 
street corners in a number of cities. He was arrested in Boston for 
disturbing the peace with his horn and was finally refused the right 
to speak anywhere because of the riots that attended his harangues. 
When a papal legate, Bedini, came to America to participate in a 
Buffalo trusteeship controversy, his name became the signal for 
anti-Catholic violence and mobs greeted him everywhere. In New 
York City the mayor called on good citizens to keep off the streets 
on Sundays, and Bishop Hughes urged Catholics to stay away from 
street meetings but to defend themselves if attacked. 

There were also riots in Kentucky, and in Nashville, Tennessee, 
the bishop thought it expedient to cancel a midnight mass on Christ- 
mas Eve and to place armed guards around his cathedral. Remote 
though Knoxville was from ports of entry and from any large im- 
migrant population, Catholics were badly treated there, possibly be- 
cause of the presence of the picturesque Methodist preacher, Parson 
Brownlow, who had long been an anti-Catholic. In 1856 he wrote a 
pamphlet with the alarming tide, Americanism Contrasted 'with 
Foreignism, Romanism and Bogus Democracy, in the Light of Rea- 
son, History, and Scripture: In Which Certain Demagogues of 
Tennessee and Elsewhere Are Shown up in Their True Colors. 
Among other interesting gleanings from history the Parson in- 
cluded the information that the Catholics had killed sixty-eight mil- 
lion people for the sole offense of being Protestants, and that in so 
doing they had shed two hundred and seventy-two million gallons 
of Protestant blood "enough to overflow the banks of the Missis- 
sippi, and destroy all the cotton and sugar plantations in Mississippi 
and Louisiana." 27 

John P. Sanderson wrote one book called Republican Landmarks 
that was full of statistics on immigration and vague allusions to the 


"foreign menace," and another, Startling Facts for Native Ameri- 
cans Called "Know Nothings" that was a collection of readings ex- 
posing papist plots and the machinations of Bishop Hughes and 
restating old superstitions and obscenities about the Catholic church. 
The Wide-Awakes got out an annual collection called The Wide- 
Awake Gift that combined such old stand-bys as "The Star-Spangled 
Banner," Washington's Farewell Address, and the Constitution with 
the latest antiforeign articles and editorials. An anonymous writer 
in 1855 produced The Sons of the Sires: a History of the Rise, Prog- 
ress, and Destiny of the American Party, which played all varia- 
tions on the theme, of Washington's order, "Put none but Americans 
on guard tonight." 

Political nativism was the subject of John Lee Hancock's Origin 
and Progress of the American Party in Politics, which provided a 
full description, from an entirely native American point of view, of 
the riots of the early fifties. Thomas R. Whitney detailed the iniqui- 
ties of the Catholics again in his Defence of the American Policy, 
devoting a whole chapter to "Romish Priests and American Politi- 
cians" and others to naturalization, immigration, and the interests of 
American labor. After the Know-Nothing party appeared, an an- 
nual Know-Nothing Almanac provided information in very popu- 
lar and informal style. 

Against this barrage conservative Protestants made some effort to 
defend both the Catholic church and the immigrants. Edward 
Everett spoke on the "Effects of Immigration," disproving the dan- 
gers emphasized by alarmists. Parke Godwin, a New York liberal, 
wrote an article for Putnam's Monthly, January 1855, condemning 
Know-Nothingism as contrary to American tradition and its prin- 
ciples as unwise and inexpedient. President Lord of Dartmouth got 
out a Tract for the Times: National Hospitality, asserting the mis- 
sion of the United States as a melting pot and expressing the opinion 
that "We should open ... the vast, rich and productive country 
stretching from sea to sea, and almost wholly lying waste, which 
the bounty of Providence has conferred on us. Freely we have re- 
ceived, and freely we should give." 28 But the great leader of the 
attack on the principles of Know-Nothingism was Henry Wise of 
Virginia, who called the whole movement a humbug, brought sta- 
tistics to combat statistics, and matched all his opponents' arguments. 


The Catholics themselves made less effort to combat this wave of 
hysteria than they had that of the middle forties. Father Hecker's 
books appeared in this period but probably were not written be- 
cause of the attack on the church. Brownson continued his denial 
of Catholic antagonism to American institutions, going farther, in- 
deed, than the Catholic authorities desired in his effort to American- 
ize the church. Bishop Spalding published a Miscellanea full of 
ammunition for the defenders of the faith; but Bishop Hughes 
stayed out of the fight altogether, on the ground that the excitement 
was temporary, was due to economic and social disorders caused by 
the increase of immigration, and would die out more quickly if ig- 
nored by the Catholic authorities. He ordered Catholics of his dio- 
cese to avoid crowds, refuse argument, stay out of fights, and use 
force only in self-defense. 

Out in Kentucky Benedict Webb, under the name "A Kentucky 
Catholic," wrote a series of letters in answer to attacks on the 
church by a local editor. Asserting that bigotry was insatiable and 
would end in depriving Catholics not only of the right to hold 
office but of all civil liberties, Webb ended his series with the hurt 
cry that must have been echoed in the hearts of many a Catholic, 
whether native or foreign-born: "The man who impugns my pa- 
triotism on account of my religious opinions, is either an insane 
bigot who claims my pity, or a foul-mouthed slanderer who has my 
contempt." 29 


The secret societies from which the Know-Nothing or Native 
American party sprang were, from their beginning, semipolitical in 
character. They were provided with elaborate rituals, secret pass- 
words, handclasps, and other accompaniments of fraternal organiza- 
tion. The important Order of the Star-Spangled Banner was typical 
of many. Its local chapters were represented in state councils, and 
state councils in a grand council that dictated the policy of the or- 
der. Members were admitted only after a careful examination and 
were required to have had two generations of Protestant and Ameri- 
can ancestors and, if married, to have Protestant wives. In the early 
years of political nativism, candidates were nominated in secret ir- 
respective of party, and no announcement of ticket or platform was 


made. On election day mysterious forces seemed to have caused the 
election of men heretofore unknown or of candidates whose elec- 
tion had seemed up to that time impossible. Since every member of 
the society had been instructed to say, when questioned, that he 
knew nothing of the matter, the name "Know-Nothing" was at- 
tached to the election phenomenon and to the group or party that 
caused it. 

In the state elections of 1853 the influence of the new group 
scarcely yet a political party was felt. Its platform, if one can call 
it such, was a queer combination of ideas: public schools were to be 
subject to no religious sect, and the Bible was to be kept in the 
schools; the period of residence required before naturalization was 
to be lengthened to twenty-one years, or a literacy test was to be 
administered; a Pacific railroad was to be built; and public lands 
were to be sold to actual settlers. In some places additional items were 
suggested, such as a denial of full political privileges to foreigners 
and to their sons unless they were educated in American schools, 
elimination of the names of all foreigners from the ballot, and pro- 
visions for the taxing of church property. 

In the South nativism was important despite the relatively few 
foreigners in that section. New Orleans was a port of entry second 
only to New York City, and as the immigrants passed through 
to the Upper Mississippi Valley, some of the poor and the weak 
stopped off in Louisiana and Mississippi, increasing the cost to those 
states for the care of dependents, defectives, and delinquents. Thou- 
sands of Germans settled in St. Louis, flocked into the Democratic 
party when naturalized, and demanded, among other things, a home- 
stead law to give them easier access to the public lands west of the 

Southerners of the 1850*5 were cruelly conscious of the fact that 
they were a minority in the country and that the old balance in 
Congress, broken by the entrance of Calif ornia as a free state, could 
not be restored. The advent of hordes of immigrants meant an in- 
crease in the numerical majority for the North and a gain for that 
section in the House of Representatives. A homestead act would 
aggravate the situation by further increasing the number of free 
states and therefore of Northern senators. As a Mississippi editor 
put it, "setders on homesteads would be abolitionists. ... It would 


be better for us that the territories should remain a waste, a howling 
wilderness, trod only by red hunters than be so settled." 80 Since 
most of the immigrants were openly antislavery men, Southerners 
had further cause for alarm. Nativism thus became another form of 

In the disintegration of old parties that followed the passage of 
the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854 lay the opportunity for the Na- 
tive American movement. Some Southern Whigs, keeping then- 
eyes on the major issue, at once took the logical step of going over 
into the Democratic party, where they increased the pressure for 
Southern control of the party and set up even stricter tests for Dem- 
ocratic leaders in the North. Many, however, looked with alarm 
upon the disunionist tendencies of prominent Southern Democrats 
and, mindful of their long-standing dislike for the party and its prin- 
ciples, found a temporary abiding place in the Native American 
party. Nativism for them was antif oreignism little tinged with anti- 
Catholicism. In New Orleans, for example, anti-Catholicism was so 
little in evidence that French Catholics were admitted to the Native 
American party. In the other Gulf states, too, mixed Catholic and 
Protestant tickets were put up by the nativist party. In the border 
states the important fact was that the Native American party stood 
for the Union and neither its antif oreign nor its anti-Catholic fea- 
tures were emphasized. In Maryland, where the school bill had 
roused anti-Catholicism in 1853, sober second thought subordinated 
the religious issue in later elections in order to attract the Catholic 
Unionist vote. 

Southern Democrats fought back, accusing the 'Know-Nothing 
party of being Whiggery in disguise and affirming that its secrecy 
was a cloak for antislavery doctrines. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, 
Southern Methodist, college president, and fire-eater, denied that 
the Know-Nothing party had any religious basis. He condemned 
his fellow Methodists for going into it and asserted that they were 
linking themselves with Northern abolitionists. Henry Wise of 
Virginia was even more emphatic and conducted his campaign for 
governor in 1855 on t ' ie single plank of exposing and defeating the 
Know-Nothings. He called "Knownothingism" the "most impious 
and unprincipled affiliation of bad means, for bad ends, which ever 
seized upon large masses of men of every opinion and party, and 


swayed them for a brief period blindly." It was "a proscription of re- 
ligions, for the demolition of some of the clearest standards of Ameri- 
can liberty, and for a fanatical and sectional demolition of slavery." 81 

In the North the antislavery Whigs and the anti-Nebraska Dem- 
ocrats had a choice in 1854 between the Native American party and 
the newly organized Republican party, which was pledged to the 
abolition of slavery in the territories and the granting of homesteads 
to settlers. In the Northwest, where the new party was formed, it 
won immediate acceptance, and there was little interest in nativism. 
Those who had lived with the energetic Scandinavians and Ger- 
mans saw little to fear from their presence or their votes. 82 And the 
frontier had never been much interested in the alleged Catholic 
menace. Nativism was condemned by both the Democratic and Re- 
publican parties in the Northwest, since the foreign vote was sought 
by both, and campaigns were fought on personalities rather than 

In the Northeast antiforeign and anti-Catholic principles were 
more deeply rooted, and the Republican party was remote and of- 
fered little of local appeal. The disintegration of the Whig party 
offered an opportunity for the Democrats to exploit the foreign 
vote, and Whig politicians found the situation intolerable. They 
were joined by many ambitious young men and by political schem- 
ers who saw in the secrecy of the Know-Nothing movement an op- 
portunity for their own advancement. A Massachusetts senator, 
George Frisbie Hoar, wrote many years later that the party was 
made up of a few honest anti-Catholics joined by "self-seeking po- 
litical adventurers and demagogues" who had taken advantage of 
the political confusion for their own purposes. 88 Many of these men 
went over to the Republican camp as soon as it was politically ad- 
visable to do so. 

All this political shifting was apparent in the election of 1 854. In 
the Northwest the Republicans won every state except Illinois, 
where Douglas* influence kept the Democrats in power. The Re- 
publicans won in Maine, and a fusion of Whigs, Democrats, and 
temperance advocates carried the election in Vermont. In New 
York the Whigs had Seward's support and managed to hold the state, 
but as soon as Seward had obtained his re-election to the United 
States Senate from the Whig legislature, he and his friend, Thurlow 


Weed, shifted to the Republican party and carried their supporters 
with them. In Pennsylvania the Know-Nothings elected several 
candidates, and in Massachusetts they filled every state office and 
nearly every legislative seat. 

In the spring elections of 1855 Rhode Island, New Hampshire, 
and Connecticut went into Know-Nothing control, as did Mary- 
land, amid the turbulence of much election rioting. The first real 
defeat for the party in the East came in Virginia, where Henry 
Wise's election as governor in 1855 was a deathblow, although the 
Know-Nothings obtained a majority of the lower house in the state 
legislature. Kentucky, Texas, and California went over to the nativ- 
ists in 1855 also, while the Republicans gained votes only in Ohio. 

But June of 1855 saw the beginning of the end for the American 
party. In the meeting of its national council in Philadelphia the 
cloak of secrecy was thrown off, and the proceedings were reported 
day by day to the newspapers. This move perhaps won over a few 
who had balked at the mixing of secret society with political party, 
but it lost the votes of some of those who had been attracted by 
the fraternal or lodge features. The council agreed upon the anti- 
Catholic and antif oreign planks, but it split on the slavery issue, the 
antislavery men withdrawing when the council accepted a resolu- 
tion stating that the national government should not legislate upon 
slavery in the territories or in the District of Columbia and had no 
power to legislate on slavery in the states. 

During 1855 and 1856 the Kansas issue caused thousands to trans- 
fer their allegiance to the openly antislavery Republican party, and 
the nomination of the "Compromiser," Millard Fillmore, by the 
American party early in 1856 caused further withdrawals from its 
camp. By the time of the election it was obvious that the party had 
lost the North and could expect a heavy vote only in the border 
states. Its platform was a catchall to entice any foot-loose voters, 
and, as an Indiana member remarked, "if there was anything in it, 
it was so covered up with verbiage that a President would be elected 
before the people would find out what it was all about." When the 
election of 1856 was over, it was found that Fillmore had only 
the eight electoral college votes contributed by Maryland. 

The election of 1856 made very clear the essential weakness of 
political nativism. In the states where the American party had been 


in power for two years its record was pitiable and its achievements 
negligible. The veteran nativist, Samuel Morse, who had jubilantly 
written in 1854 that he could say "in the spirit of good old Sim- 
eon _ 'Now let thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen 
thy salvation,' " M must have been chagrined at the record of the 
party for which he had had such high hopes. It had shown no lead- 
ership and had produced no constructive legislation. In Massachu- 
setts the Know-Nothing legislature was made up of novices little 
men, eager for their own advantage, and without a statesman among 
them. A wag said of them that the preacher of the election sermon 
should have used a text from Job: "For we are but of yesterday, 
and know nothing." Their only piece of nativist legislation was an 
amendment to the constitution that the next legislature killed before 
it went to the people for ratification. 

Khow-Nothing legislators were obsessed by the need for inves- 
tigating nunneries and convent schools, and committees were ap- 
pointed that went junketing about the state, visiting Catholic insti- 
tutions and entertaining their friends royally at state expense. Other 
types of petty graft brought the legislators into disrepute, and few 
were grieved when the expensive session came to an end. When 
Henry Wilson, the Know-Nothing Senator from Massachusetts, 
was asked how he could attempt to overthrow the political organi- 
zation that had made him, he said testily, "Fll blow the whole thing 
to hell and damnation" and the state of Massachusetts seemed 
quite willing to follow him into the Republican party. 

In the other New England states Kjaow-Nothingism seemed but 
a way-station on the route to Republicanism, a sign of weariness 
with the old parties and their equivocal position on slavery. In New 
York Horace Greeley caustically remarked that the American party 
had about "as many elements of persistence as an anti-cholera or 
anti-potato-rot party would have." In Maryland the slavery ques- 
tion as well as complex problems in local politics gave the party 
more strength, but its victories were at the expense of political 
peace and every election was a brawl. Baltimore was called "mob 
town," and the Plug-Uglies, Blood Tubs, and Rip Raps kept peace- 
ful citizens from the polls by their violence. It grew more and more 
obvious that all that held the Border Whigs who had gone into the 
party was a desire to save the Union, which they felt was being 


sacrificed to the jingoistic aspirations of the Democrats on the one 
hand and to the prescriptive tendencies of antislavery men on the 

The identity between the membership of the old Whig party and 
that of the Know-Nothing party was pointed out in every state. It 
was obvious that the Republican party was the new and vigorous 
organization, and equally obvious that it was a horizontal, exclu- 
sively Northern party whose growth presaged secession and civil 
war. The original anti-Catholic, antif oreign tenets of the American 
party were lost sight of in the greater issue of slavery. 

On the score of the basic principles of nativism, the history of 
the movement as a whole and of its later political phases makes it 
clear that the people of the United States did not in great numbers 
accept those principles; they did not want to "shut the gates" in or- 
der to restrict the civil liberties of the Catholics. Allegiance to dem- 
ocratic principles was strong in the hearts of the average citizen, and 
a majority could never be found to challenge the principles of their 


The Crusade for Peace 

So complete were the surveys and so searching the analyses of the 
early nineteenth-century advocates of peace that, despite the fail- 
ure of their efforts, their work as a whole was permanent and sub- 
stantial. They laid the bases for the condemnation of war, explored 
the arguments in support of peace, and devised systems to pro- 
vide for the pacific settlement of international disputes. Men of the 
twentieth century, treading in their footsteps, found use every- 
where for the materials they had amassed and often could do no 
better than to reprint the plans they had evolved. 

The peace advocates were few in number; the cause was never 
popular even with those easily stirred to support reforms. If a zeal- 
ous reformer had energy enough left for the cause of peace after 
attending to nearer duties, no one would deny him freedom to 
work in its behalf, but when the more important cause was in jeop- 
ardy all else must be forgotten. 

Perhaps, too, there was a fundamental inconsistency between 
the cause of peace and the tactics of the combative, perfection- 
seeking Gome-Outers of nineteenth-century America. Certainly 
there was no evidence of pacifism in the practices of the temperance 
advocates or of the abolitionists. And to the American of the years 
after 1815 foreign affairs were of little significance in comparison 
with the crowding events and movements of the domestic scene. 
Then, if ever, Europe seemed truly remote and the possibility of 
war far away. The early leaders of the peace movement were men 
aroused to action by the horrors of the long wars prior to 1815. 
When their places were taken by younger men, there were few 
who did not hold the antislavery issue to be more important, and 
few who did not forget or disregard their peace principles as the 
days of crisis approached. 


Pacifism was not a new concept. In the middle ages pietistic and 
heretical sects spread ideas of nonviolence throughout Europe. The 
Quakers were the great exponents of the doctrine of nonresistance 



and coupled that tenet with a thoroughgoing humanitarianism that 
put them in the advance guard of many reform movements. Always 
they worked for peace, and when in rimes of war they refused to 
fight, they won the respect as well as the opprobrium of their con- 

It was the Quaker William Penn who in 1693, in an Essay To- 
wards the Present and Future Peace of Europe, developed a scheme 
for an international tribunal whose decisions on disputes between 
nations should be binding upon all parties, and it was another 
Quaker of Pennsylvania, Anthony Benezet, who at the time of the 
American Revolution worked and wrote in the cause of peace. He 
endeavored to enlist all "right-minded" persons in his effort to avert 
war, pleading with one of them: 

Friend, I know thou art a man of letters, and a member of the French 
Academy: the men of letters have written a great many good things of 
late, they have attacked errors and prejudices, and above all, intoler- 
ance; will they not endeavor too, to disgust men with the horrors of 
war, and to make them live together like friends and brethren? - 1 

In 1 776 Benezet published a little ten-page pamphlet called Thoughts 
on the Nature of War, in which he declared that the greatest of the 
evils of war was the damage done to the souls of men who partici- 
pated. Two years later he sent a little brochure called Serious Re- 
flections Affectionately Recommended to all the members of the 
Continental Congress, imploring that they bend every effort toward 
securing peace. Throughout the rest of his life Benezet kept up his 
correspondence advocating peace, always insisting that reason, hu- 
manity, and the religion of Jesus Christ all refused to support "that 
spirit which gives life to war in any of its branches, but apprehend 
themselves uniformly called to promote to the utmost of their 
power, the welfare of all men." 2 

The indefatigable Benjamin Rush took time from the other re- 
forms for which he labored to propose a Peace Office for the govern- 
ment of the new republic, arguing cogently that if it was expedient 
to have a war department, it was far more necessary to equip the 
state with the machinery for peace. This novel idea was elaborated 
in an article in Banneker's Almanack for 1793. Rush suggested the 
appointment of a "genuine republican and a sincere Christian" as 
Secretary of Peace, under whom a system of free schools would 


teach morals and religion as well as reading and writing. These 
schools should inculcate the doctrines of peace and stress the sanc- 
tity of human life. All laws that might encourage war were to be 
repealed. Uniforms, tides, and military equipment were to be abol- 
ished, for "were there no uniforms, there would probably be no 
armies." Over the door of the Peace Office an emblem should be 
suspended showing the lamb, the dove, and the olive branch, and 
bearing in letters of gold the text, "Peace on Earth - Good Will to 
Men." The building should house, also, a peace museum and an au- 
ditorium for concerts and lectures devoted to the cause. 

Dr. Rush was convinced that effort should be made to render 
war and the war office of the government disreputable. He sug- 
gested a variety of signs to be placed over the doors of the offices 
of war departments: "an office for butchering the human species"; 
"a widow- and orphan-making office"; "an office for making broken 
bones and wooden legs"; "an office for creating private and public 
vices"; and others for creating public debts, speculators, stock job- 
bers and bankrupts, famines, political diseases, poverty, and the de- 
struction of liberty and national happiness. 

In the lobby of this office let there be painted the representations of 
all the common military instruments of death; also human skulls, broken 
bones, unveined and putrefying dead bodies, hospitals crowded with 
sick and wounded soldiers, villages on fire, mothers in besieged towns, 
eating the flesh of their children, ships sinking in the ocean, rivers dyed 
with blood, and extensive plains without tree or fence, or any other 
object but the ruins of deserted farm houses. Above all this group of 
woful figures, let the following words be inserted in red characters, to 
represent human blood: "NATIONAL GLORY." 

The essay ended with the somewhat satirical comment: "It is to be 
hoped that no objection will be made to the establishment of such 
an office while we are engaged in a war with the Indians, for as the 
War-Office of the United States was established in the time of 
peace, it is equally reasonable that a Peace Office should be estab- 
lished in the time of war" 

Universal in his interests, cosmopolitan in his tastes and his ac- 
quaintance, Benjamin Franklin found it necessary to devote his en- 
ergies to the cause of his country at war, but even during the war 
he constantly extolled the virtues of peace in his correspondence, 


and when peace came no one rejoiced more wholeheartedly. In a 
letter to Sir Joseph Banks in 1783 he expressed his joy that peace 
had at last been agreed upon: "I hope it will be lasting, and that 
mankind will at length, as they call themselves reasonable creatures, 
have reason and sense enough to settle their differences without cut- 
ting throats; for, in my opinion, there never was a good war or a 
bad peace" Franklin asserted that war always cost more than either 
adversary could hope to gain and that the victor would always, in 
the larger sense, be a loser. 8 

These scattered protests against war did not end with the Revo- 
lution, for there was no general peace. A generation grew to man- 
hood in the early nineteenth century without ever having known a 
year in which wars and rumors of wars had not been the chief sub- 
ject for concern. The writers of several of the tracts were Quakers, 
who condemned war on the basis of its inconsistency with Christian 
principles. Among ministers of other faiths, the Unitarians espe- 
cially were outspoken in their deprecation of war, perhaps because 
of their rationalistic principles. With the great revivals shortly after 
1800 came a new influence for peace, for the perfectionist carried 
his faith in God's power to save his creatures on this earth to the 
point of denying the right of resistance to force. 

Some of this literature seems almost painfully familiar today. In a 
sermon delivered on a day of public fast in 1810 William Ellery 
Channing commented on the iniquities of the Napoleonic dictator- 

... in addition to his [Napoleon's] lust for power, he is almost com- 
pelled by the necessity of his circumstances to carry on the bloody 
work of conquest. His immense armies, the only foundations of his em- 
pire, must be supported. Impoverished France, however, cannot give 
them support. They must, therefore, live on the spoils of other nations. 
But the nations which they successively spoil, and whose industry and 
arts they extinguish, cannot long sustain them. Hence they must pour 
themselves into new regions. Hence plunder, devastation, and new con- 
quests are not merely the outrages of wanton barbarity; they are essen- 
tial even to the existence of this tremendous power. 

Channing feared for his own country, whose battle he felt England 
was fighting, although few Americans could be brought to realize 
their danger: 


We seem determined to believe that this storm will spend all its force 
at a distance. The idea that <we are marked out as victims of this all de- 
stroying despotism, that our turn is to come and perhaps is near -this 
idea strikes our mind as fiction. . . . The history of all ages teaches us, 
all our knowledge of human nature teaches us, that a nation of vast and 
unrivalled power is to be -feared by all the world. . . . Have we noth- 
ing to fear because an ocean rolls between us? ... The ruin of Eng- 
land is the first, the most settled purpose of his heart, that nation is the 
only barrier to his ambition. In the opulence, the energy, the public 
spirit, the liberty of England he sees the only obstacles to universal 
dominion. England once fallen and the civilization of the world lies at 
his feet. 

In round terms Channing damned the ideology of France and as- 
serted that Napoleon's conquests began by "corruption, by venal- 
ity, by bribes," that "the conqueror thinks his work not half finished 
until the wind is conquered, its energy broken, its feeling for the 
public welfare subdued." * 


In 1809 a wealthy Presbyterian merchant of New York City, 
David Low Dodge, published a pamphlet entitled The Mediator's 
Kingdom Not of This World. The antiwar arguments of the bro- 
chure were based on the Sermon on the Mount, and its general 
trend was toward a radical nonresistant position. Several pamphlets 
were published challenging Dodge's position, and in 1815 he an- 
swered all his critics in a litde book called War Inconsistent 'with 
the Religion of Jesus Christ. The economic effects of war were 
fully apparent in 1815, perhaps for the first time in the world's his- 
tory, and Dodge emphasized the cost of war expenditures. He seems 
to have been one of the first to discern that there was little distinc- 
tion between offensive and defensive wars, and he asserted that 
every combatant fought in defense of some territory, principle, or 
ambition. War was, in the mind of Dodge, an unmitigated evil; by 
it nations were impoverished and liberty was destroyed; from it 
came despotism, degradation, and economic disaster. 

Stirred by news that peace had at last come to a war-weary 
world, men everywhere were determined that such a cataclysm 
should never again occur. The czar of Russia combined religion and 
diplomacy in forming the Holy Alliance, while more realistic states- 


men joined in an attempt to control Europe through congresses 
called by a Quadruple Alliance pledged to defend the status quo. 
In London the English Friends organized to further the cause of 
peace, and in the United States peace societies sprang up to spread 
propaganda for yet another humanitarian movement. 

In August 1815 thirty men met with David Low Dodge in New 
York City and formed what was probably the first peace society in 
the world. Its constitution condemned all warfare and admitted 
only members who were in good standing in their respective 
churches. Although the funds of the little society were very lim- 
ited, it at once plunged into a propaganda campaign and printed a 
vast number of peace tracts for distribution in boxes of Dodge's 
merchandise. 5 This little New York society grew slowly until in 
1817 it numbered about sixty devoted members. It later became a 
branch of another society independently formed in Boston. 

Noah Worcester, a Congregational clergyman in New England, 
was always a liberal, never doctrinaire in his beliefs, and at times 
accused of heterodoxy. The War of 1812 made him an outspoken 
advocate of peace, and, during a period when he was without a 
clerical charge, he found a vehicle for the expression of his antiwar 
sentiments in the Christian Disciple, of which he became editor in 
1813. It was with the intention of writing an article on the popular 
delusions that resulted in war that Worcester began a survey of the 
wars of the past and of measures that might be used to prevent war 
in the future. The article grew into a classic in peace literature, 
The Solemn Review of the Custom of War, showing that war is the 
effect of popular delusion, and Proposing a Remedy. Only by as- 
suming half the expense of publication himself was Worcester able 
to get his ideas into print in December 1814, but, much to his sur- 
prise, the book was immediately successful and was put through 
five editions in less than two years. 

War comes, said Worcester, from the basest passion of human 
nature; when it is waged for a redress of wrongs, its tendency is to 
multiply wrongs a hundredfold. The best that can be said for it is 
that those who wage it may feel that they are "doing evil that good 
may come." 6 But the originality of The Solemn Review, and the 
reason why it was revived and reread in the early years of the twen- 
tieth century, lay in its recommendations for a confederacy of na- 


rions and a high court of justice for the settlement of international 
disputes. Worcester urged the immediate formation of peace so- 
cieties to begin the education pf the public toward those ends and 
concluded with a stirring denunciation of war as a "heathenish and 
savage custom, of the most malignant, most desolating and most 
horrible character. It is the greatest curse, and results from the 
grossest delusions that ever afflicted a guilty world." 

The New England of 1 8 1 5 could not listen unmoved to a call for 
societies. In 1815 in the home of William Ellery Channing in Boston 
a group of those who had been stirred by Worcester's Solemn Re- 
view met to organize the Massachusetts Peace Society. There were 
twenty-two charter members, but their energy and prominence 
soon made up for the smallness of their number. Worcester was the 
corresponding secretary from the beginning, and also the editor of 
the society's first periodical, the Friend of Peace, whose columns he 
used to urge the organization of similar societies elsewhere. At the 
end of its first year the Massachusetts society had almost two hun- 
dred members, and in 1818 three hundred more. Wherever The 
Solemn Review and the Friend of Peace found their way, peace 
societies were formed. In 1819 there were seventeen, scattered from 
Maine to Georgia and from Rhode Island to Indiana. Branch socie- 
ties were formed in small towns and villages, tracts were distributed, 
and public meetings were sponsored. 

The rosters of these societies contained the names of the intel- 
lectual aristocracy of the day. In the Massachusetts society, for ex- 
ample, were gathered Josiah Quincy, the president of Harvard 
College, and many of its faculty, Francis Parkman, James Russell 
Lowell, and the Tappan brothers. Many clergymen were members 
of the peace societies, and the program called upon them for peace 
sermons at frequent intervals. 

At the annual meeting of the Boston ministerial association in 
1816 William Ellery Channing placed the responsibility for the 
peace movement on the shoulders of the clergy, declaring that the 
miseries and horrors of war could be avoided only by the develop- 
ment of the Christian qualities of nobility, dignity, and moral cour- 
age. He thought wars were caused by false patriotism, passion for 
power, greed, the love of excitement, and the tributes and high 
position given to warriors. Only education could substitute other 


qualities and other values and pave the way for peace. Worcester 
followed Channing's appeal by a circular letter from the society to 
the "associations, presbyteries, assemblies, and meetings of ministers 
of religion" appealing for the aid of the clergy. 

Statesmen were called upon, also, in the hope that their approval 
might add to the prestige of the movement. Jefferson expressed his 
interest in general terms and accepted honorary membership, but 
blunt old John Adams refused in no uncertain terms: 

Universal and perpetual peace appear to me no more or less than ever- 
lasting passive obedience and non-resistance. The human flock would 
soon be fleeced and butchered by one or a few. I cannot, therefore, sir, 
be a subscriber or a member of your society. 7 

These early societies were greatly impressed by the peculiar fit- 
ness of the United States to lead in such a crusade. America with 
its freedom of opportunity, its emphasis upon the worth of the indi- 
vidual, its republican government, and, above all, its isolation from 
European quarrels might well be the hope of the world. And the re- 
sponsibility of Americans was great in proportion to the greatness 
of their privileges. This sense of the mission of the New World was 
evident in the address of Thomas Dawes at the second annual meet- 
ing of the Massachusetts society: 

Without intending any invidious comparisons between our own and 
other nations, it may be observed that they rose by slow degrees from a 
savage state, and some of its customs grew up with them. The founders 
of our nation were already civilized. . . . War was not to be a part of 
their system it was not to be a profession. . . . We have raised a re- 
publican government upon the principles of our ancestors, and let us at 
least endeavor to ingraft upon it perpetual peace, notwithstanding the 
incredulity of those who think that nothing which is old can be 
mended, and nothing which is new can ever succeed. 

In the same vein Channing rested his faith in the abolition of war 
upon his belief in democracy: 

War rests upon opinion, and opinion is more and more withdrawing its 
support. War rests on contempt of human nature, on the long, mourn- 
ful habit of regarding the mass of human beings as machines, or as 
animals having no higher use than to be shot at and murdered, for the 
glory of a chief ... for the petty interests or selfish rivalries which 
have inflamed states to conflict. Let the worth of a human being be felt; 
let the mass of the people be elevated; let it be understood that a man 


was made to enjoy an unalienable right to improve lofty powers, to se- 
cure a vast happiness; and a main pillar of war will fall. 8 

And yet, hopeful as was its beginning, the peace movement made 
little headway. A few state societies and more that were small and 
local, an occasional peace sermon by a noted divine, a few thousand 
tracts published and distributed, a tempest-in-a-teapot campaign 
against militia training or military chaplainship by the clergy, a spir- 
ited but futile advocacy of United States adherence to the Holy 
Alliance such was the history of the peace crusade in the first deer 
ade of its existence. The truth of the matter was that international 
peace was not a matter of consuming interest to many Americans 
in the early nineteenth century, and if some new impetus had not 
come into the movement, the fire of the peace crusade would have 
burned itself out before 1830. 


The necessary new energy and new spirit came from William 
Ladd, quite a different sort of man from those who had initiated 
the earlier societies. Born into a well-to-do New Hampshire family 
in the days of the Revolution, he had been educated at Harvard, had 
sailed on his father's ships and been captain of his own vessels, and 
had been a merchant in Savannah, Georgia, and a cotton planter in 
Florida. In 1814 he retired with a considerable fortune and settled 
down on a five-hundred-acre farm in Maine. Interested in his fellow 
men and absolutely free from malice or hatred, Ladd won many 
friends through his jollity and good will, and his contemporaries 
always asserted that he had no enemies. The observant J. S. C. Ab- 
bott, who met Ladd in Maine, saw in him nothing of the crusader 
or the fanatic. 

He was the life of the party [he wrote], full of fun and frolic. I was 
told that his natural temperament was of the most joyous kind. He 
played with the children as though he were one of them. Some one 
pleasantly remarked, "when you become a man, you should put away 
childish things." He promptly replied, "Oh, I fear that I shall never be 
a man, I can never be anything more than a Ladd" * 

The mind and heart of this kindly man were open to any philan- 
thropic cause, and his interest in peace, aroused by President Jesse 
Appleton of Bowdoin College, was greatly increased by the read- 


ing of Worcester's Solemn Review and copies of the Friend of 
Peace. As he later confessed, he became convinced that war was an 
evil which must be banished from civilized society. "I felt it a 
duty," he said, "which I owe to God and my fellow-creatures to do 
something to hasten the glorious era when men shall learn war no 
more." 10 His time and his money were devoted to that end for the 
rest of his life, and the peace movement became his residuary lega- 
tee upon his death. In 1823 he wrote more than thirty articles on 
peace for the Portland Christian Mirror and two years later con- 
tributed a second series of even greater length. He joined the Mas- 
sachusetts Peace Society, established branches for it, and revived the 
moribund Maine society, organizing branches for it as well. He 
delivered many addresses in the New England states, and began a 
correspondence with the London Peace Society and read all its 

After a careful study of the American movement, Ladd came to 
the conclusion that it needed a national organization to unify all the 
local and state societies, provide a common platform and program, 
serve as a center for publishing and distributing propaganda, and 
maintain contacts with the world peace movement. In 1828 he 
started out on the travels that were to continue through the rest of 
his life, carrying with him a constitution for a national society 
drawn up by Noah Worcester, who had eagerly welcomed a new 
recruit to take the burden from his aging shoulders. Ladd found the 
New York society very weak but willing to throw in its lot with a 
new organization, as were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Phila- 
delphia, and Hartford. After many preliminary meetings and much 
travel back and forth, in May 1828 Ladd met with a large group of 
the friends of peace in the home of David Low Dodge in New York 
City and organized the American Peace Society. 

The constitution of the society was brief, providing merely for 
the necessary details of organization. When it went out to peace 
groups throughout the country, however, it was accompanied by a 
circular letter written by Ladd which served as a more detailed 

We hope [he said] to increase and promote the practice already begun 
of submitting national differences to amicable discussion and arbitra- 
tion; and finally of settling all national controversies by an appeal to 


reason, as becomes rational creatures and not by physical force, as is 
worthy only of brute beasts; and that this shall be done by a congress of 
Christian nations whose decrees shall be enforced by public opinion 
that rules the world. 

Ladd's platform was very broad. Any and every method for arous- 
ing public opinion in favor of peace was advocated. The old reli- 
ance on piety, the ministry, and prayer was stressed, but a new ap- 
peal was made to science, economics, humanitarianism, and public 
service. The controversial issue of whether a peace movement must 
condemn all war, defensive as well as offensive, had already caused 
difficulty for more than one society. Ladd faced the issue squarely 
and declared that the American Peace Society would accept all 
friends of peace of whatever religious or political persuasion for 
when offensive wars were abolished everyone could work in amity 
to ban all other varieties of combat. 11 

The eager philanthropists of the day could resist neither Ladd's 
logic nor his enthusiasm. The optimism of a man who could say, 
"This is the most auspicious moment that ever occurred in the cause 
of peace, and I grudge every moment that is not devoted to it," was 
infectious, and the driving, force that made him write, "They might 
as well throw snowballs into the crater of Vesuvius in the hope of 
extinguishing it as to expect to cool me," was a good omen for the 
success of the society. Support came quickly from all the consist- 
ent and thoroughgoing reformers. 

With the formation of the new society came the retirement of 
Noah Worcester and the end of the Friend of Peace. For three 
years (1828-31) the Harbinger of Peace, edited by Ladd and 
printed wherever he happened to be, was the official periodical of 
the society. From 1831 to 1835 the society published the Calumet, 
but the hard-pressed Ladd was glad at that time to combine it with 
William Watson's American Advocate of Peace, and the office of 
the magazine was moved to Boston, where it was edited by the Rev- 
erend George C. Beckwith. Thousands of copies of these papers 
were distributed as a part of the propaganda work of the society. 


At Ladd's suggestion, in colleges throughout the country prizes 
were offered for the best essay on peace, and Ladd himself visited 

Benjamin Rush, universal reformer 

Elihu Burritt, ''the learned blacksmith" 

^v", **-*. x / 
't&ffiy-'. J fr 

, -\Uf1yiwkwu6 Mr. 

By courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society 

"Jamie and the Bishop" a nativist cartoon showing President 
James K. Polk attacking the Catholics 


many of the schools to stimulate student interest. His success in this 
work was evidenced by the formation of peace societies at Amherst, 
Dartmouth, and Oberlin and less organized student activities at 
Harvard, Union, Knox, and other colleges. 

Beginning in 1829, the directors of the American Peace Society 
periodically offered a prize for the best paper on "A Congress of 
Nations for the Prevention of War." For some reason the judges 
repeatedly, refused to select a prize winner from among the con- 
testants, but, believing the essays were valuable contributions to 
peace literature, the officers of the society finally decided to publish 
the five best papers in a single volume. In editing the essays for pub- 
lication, Ladd decided to print a summary of the rejected essays 
with some additions of his own in the form of a sixth essay. The 
six treatises on a congress of nations appeared in 1 840 in a volume of 
seven hundred pages. It was very well received and sold widely in 
Europe as well as in the United States. The consensus of opinion 
was that the Ladd essay had the greatest merit, and it was recog- 
nized as a classic contribution to the subject. 

The distinctive feature of Ladd's recommendations for a peace 
structure was his suggestion that there be two separate bodies, a 
congress of ambassadors for the purpose of "settling the principles 
of international law . . . and of devising and promoting plans for 
the preservation of peace," and a court of nations "composed of the 
most able civilians in the world to arbitrate or judge such cases as 
should be brought before it, by the mutual consent of two or more 
contending nations." Ladd paid tribute to democratic institutions 
and practices in his statement: 

Before either the President or the Congress of these United States will act 
on this subject, the sovereign people must act, and before they will 
act, they must be acted on by the friends of peace; and the subject must 
be laid before the people in all parts of our country. 12 

A survey of past wars prepared by a committee of the Massachu- 
setts Peace Society listed nearly three hundred wars of magnitude 
and classified them in eleven categories, such as wars of ambition, of 
conquest, of commerce, of religion, and of disputed claims to crowns 
or territories. The Englishman, Jonathan Dymond, in his Inquiry 
into the Accordcmcy of War with the Principles of Christianity, 


stressed the economic factors in war, and Ladd and Beckwith in the 
Harbinger and the Advocate of Peace reiterated his arguments. The 
Moral Results of War was another pamphlet by Dymond; Samuel 
Coues challenged the value of military establishments in a tract en- 
tided The United States Navy What Is Its Use? and Amasa 
Walker denied the old adage, "In time of peace prepare for war," 
in a fantasy called Le Monde. 1 * 

In 1838 Emerson came to the aid of the protagonists of peace in 
an "Address on War" that was often and extensively quoted. He 
called war an "epidemic insanity" of which all history marked the 
decline. His optimism led him to say that "universal peace is as sure 
as is the prevalence of civilization over barbarism, of liberal govern- 
ments over feudal forms," and his transcendentalism made him be- 
lieve that "all history teaches wise men to put trust in ideas, and not 

in circumstances." 

But Emerson warned that universal peace could not be achieved 
by legislation or by manifestoes or even by public opinion, but 
rather "by private opinion, by private conviction, by private, dear, 
and earnest love. For the only hope of this cause is in the increased 
insight, and it is to be accomplished by the spontaneous teaching of 
the cultivated soul in its secret experience and meditation." Pursuit 
of peace must, however, be passionate and active, for the "cause of 
peace is not the cause of cowardice. ... If peace is to be main- 
tained, it must be by brave men." Emerson ended his address with a 
ringing challenge to his fellow countrymen: 

Where the forest is only now falling, or yet to fall, and the green earth 
opened to the inundation of emigrant men from all quarters of oppres- 
sion and guilt; here, where not a family, not a few men, but mankind, 
shall say what shall be; here, we ask, Shall it be war, or shall it be 
peace? 14 

Many years later, when the country was torn by civil war, Emerson 
like Garrison forgot some of the convictions of his earlier years. 
Coming to feel that there might be occasions when war was morally 
unavoidable, he wrote: 

Though practically nothing is so improbable or perhaps impossible a 
contingency for me, yet I do not wish to abdicate so extreme a privi- 
lege as the use of the sword or the bullet. For the peace of the man who 
has forsworn the use of the bullet seems to me not quite peace. 1 " 


William Jay was a constant advocate of arbitration and of a con- 
gress of nations. In his War and Peace: The Evils of the First and a 
Plan for Preserving the Last, he urged the insertion in every treaty 
of some arrangement for the arbitration of any future disputes of 
the powers signing the treaty. "It is obvious that war might be in- 
stantly banished from Europe, would its nations regard themselves 
as members of one great society, and, by mutual consent, erect a 
court for the trial and decisions of their respective disputes." 16 

William Jay's support of what was called "stipulated arbitration" 
brought that device for the advancement of peace before the pub- 
lic. Already local societies had petitioned state legislators to urge 
some sort of arbitration system upon Congress and the President. In 
1837 and 1838 both houses of the Massachusetts legislature had 
passed resolutions to that effect. The New York society sent a peti- 
tion direct to Congress, and William Ladd went to Washington in 
1837 to urge arbitration upon President Van Buren neither with 
any more effect than a similar attempt in the early 1850*8 produced. 
The English Quaker and pacifist, Joseph Sturge, visited the United 
States in 1841 and conferred with Judge William Jay on the ques- 
tion. After his return to London, he urged the policy of "stipulated 
arbitration" upon the London Peace Society and upon the interna- 
tional peace congresses of the next decade. In 1 847 George Beckwith, 
who had become head of the American Peace Society upon Ladd's 
death in 1842, published The Peace Manual or War and Its Reme- 
dies, a volume listing the physical and moral evils of war and sug- 
gesting, among other remedies, arbitration, an international court, 
and a congress of nations. 

In general it may be said that the peace literature of the first half 
of the nineteenth century was extensive, that it afforded a compre- 
hensive survey of the causes and effects of war, and that it suggested 
much the same remedies as those tried by later generations of the 
advocates of peace. 


Just as the temperance movement was disrupted by the contro- 
versy over total abstinence and the abolitionists stumbled over the 
obstacle of immediatism, so the peace crusade split over the denial 
of the right of defense. The early peace advocates had condemned 


all wars, taking their cue from the Quaker doctrine of nonresist- 
ance, but the American Peace Society had sought numbers and sup- 
port by compromise or by ignoring the issue. All wars were evil, 
admitted the leaders, but unity and the success of their program 
demanded a concentration of effort against offensive wars. These 
abolished, the time might come for a total assault upon war. 

Until 1837 the platform of the national society continued to con- 
tain the original broad plank inserted by Ladd in 1828, but all was 
not peace within the organization. Some said that all wars were offen- 
sive, others that sophists might justify every war as defensive. Radi- 
cal speakers roused patriots to frenzy by condemning the American 
Revolution, and moderates, forced to agree that the line was almost 
impossible to draw, yet hesitated to assert that all wars were un- 
Christian. In accordance with the society's liberal principles, its 
peace periodicals were open to writers on both sides of the contro- 
versy, which was carried on also in public debates and innumerable 

The most important of the publications condemning all wars was 
an address by Judge Thomas Grimk6 of South Carolina before the 
New Haven Peace Society in 1832. Nothing could be more positive 
than his statement: 

Christians never will bear arms against each other or against them [the 
heathen]. . . . Christians never shall employ the sword to protect 
property, character, liberty or life. Let the heathen rule us. ... Let 
them insult, persecute, oppress, sky us. Let them confiscate property, 
slander character . . . separate husband and wife, parent and child 
. . . poison the comfort and happiness of private and social life; and 
heap upon us all the enormities and cruelties that malice can suggest and 
tyranny execute. Still we will bear it all, nor shall the sword ever be 
employed to deliver, much less to avenge us. ... Cost what it may, 
we will return good for evil. 17 

This address was answered by Dr. William Allen, president of 
Bowdoin College, in a pamphlet entitled Defensive War Vindi- 
cated^ and the fight raged on, much to the edification of the cynical, 
who found cause for mirth in the spectacle of combat in the ranks 
of the crusaders for peace. Henry C. Wright, a nonresister, debated 
with the famous Eliphalet Nott, president of Union College, and 
turned from that arena to win the support of the Grimk6 sisters, 
Garrison, and other radical abolitionists. Garrison agreed in 1837 


to give space in the columns of the Liberator to the cause of peace 
and soon became the most valiant advocate of nonresistance. 

In the annual meeting of the American Peace Society in 1837 the 
ultras carried their point and secured a revision of the constitution 
to state that all war was contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and in- 
consistent with Christianity. This "Gospel decision" divided the 
society. President Allen of Bowdoin and other members of the so- 
ciety withdrew their support, saying the new measure was but a 
"dream of weak benevolence," which would mean the annihilation 
of civil government if carried to its logical conclusion. At the next 
annual meeting, however, the moderates were in the ascendancy, 
and George Beckwith persuaded the delegates to accept a compro- 
mise measure which condemned all wars but reserved the right of 
individual self-defense. It urged the support of all persons who de- 
sired the "extinction of war, regardless of their convictions on the 
issue of defensive war." This new declaration brought the policy of 
the American society into harmony with the English program and 
established the official position of the society for the rest of its ca- 
reer. But it did not placate the nonresisters, nor did it end their ac- 


As early as 1835, before the issue was forced upon the American 
Peace Society, William Lloyd Garrison had come to the conclusion 
that "it is the duty of the followers of Christ to suffer themselves to 
be defrauded, calumniated and barbarously treated, without resort- 
ing either to their own physical energies, or to the force of human 
law, for restitution or punishment." 1S This nonresistance idea was 
reinforced and given new direction by association with John Hum- 
phrey Noyes, the Perfectionist, who had already signed a declaration 
severing all connection with the government of the United States. 
Noyes sent Garrison a long letter in April 1837 which urged Garri- 
son to serve no government save that of Christ and to work for 
"Universal Emancipation from Sin." 

The effect of contact with Noyes's ideas was immediate, and a 
few weeks later Garrison wrote to Henry Wright that Christians 
were not authorized "to combine together in order to lacerate, sue, 
imprison, or hang their enemies, nor even as individuals to resort to 
physical force to break down the heart of an adversary. . . . Hu- 


man governments will remain in -violent existence as long as men 
are resolved not to bear the cross of Christ, and be crucified unto 
the world. 19 

By December 1837 Garrison was ready to lead a new radical 
peace movement and announced in the Liberator that the Quaker 
doctrine of nonresistance erred only in not going far enough: 

If a nation may not redress its wrongs by physical force if it may not 
repel or punish a foreign enemy who comes to plunder, enslave or mur- 
der its inhabitants then it may not resprt to arms to quell an insurrec- 
tion, or send to prison or suspend upon a gibbet any transgressors upon 
its soil. ... in no case can physical resistance be allowable, either in an 
individual or collective capacity. . . . 

As to the governments of this world, whatever their titles or forms, 
we shall endeavor to prove that, in their essential elements, and as at 
present administered, they are Anti-Christ; that they can never, by hu- 
man wisdom, be brought into conformity with the will of God; that 
they cannot be maintained except by naval and military power; that all 
their penal enactments, being a dead letter without an army to carry 
them into effect, are virtually written in human blood; and that the 
followers of Jesus should instinctively shun their stations of honor, 
power, and emolument at the same time "submitting to every ordi- 
nance of man for the Lord's sake," and offering no physical resistance 
to any of their mandates, however unjust and tyrannical. 20 

These ideas had already been expressed by the Grimke sisters, 
whose Quaker background furnished excellent soil for pacifism. 
They wrote to Gerrit Smith in April 1837 that they were alarmed 
because the abolitionists were "willing to say at least that the arm 
of violence should be raised in their behalf," and they asked Smith's 
support for their nonresistance policy. Angelina's anxiety because 
her doughty abolitionist friend, Theodore Weld, was not "a peace 
man" led to the culmination of their romance. Weld's impatience 
with what he called her "no government" doctrines hurt her tender 
feelings, and she wrote, pathetically, "We did not understand each 
other." Weld responded with abject apologies and a declaration of 
love, which she accepted joyfully and with a labored explanation 
of her views on government. Civil government, she wrote, 

... is based on physical force, physical force is forbidden by the Law 
of Love. If I have no right to resist evil myself, I have no right to call 
upon another to resist it for me, and if I must not call upon the Magis- 
trate to redress my grievances, if I have no right to do so, then he can 


have no right to render me any such aid. Now the puzzle in my mind is 
this. If these things Are So, then God has changed the moral govern- 
ment of his people, and yet my favorite theory has been the unchange- 
ableness of this government. 21 

That puzzle was as far as the gentle Angelina got with the knotty 
problem of Christian anarchism, but the more positive Sarah wrote 
to Gerrit Smith that she subscribed to the "sublime doctrine of ac- 
knowledging no government but God's, of loosing myself from all 
dominion of man both civil and ecclesiastical, the more [that] I am 
persuaded it is the only doctrine that can bring us that liberty 
wherewith Christ has made us free." 22 But neither Sarah nor her 
friend Garrison was able to win over Gerrit Smith or the Tappans. 

Committed to this doctrine of nonresistance and no government, 
Garrison and his friends decided on positive action. At an anniver- 
sary gathering of various peace society members on May 29, 1838, 
Henry Wright moved that a convention be called to discuss prin- 
ciples and methods of securing peace. When the convention as- 
sembled, it was apparent that Garrison, Adin Ballou, Henry Wright, 
Bronson Alcott, Abby Kelly, and Amasa Walker all prominent 
radicals would swing the meeting, made up of nearly two hun- 
dred delegates, to the left, or they would secede. 

The first issue was the voting rights of women delegates, and the 
adoption of a resolution recognizing these, supported by all left- 
wingers, led to the departure of Beckwith and other conservatives. 
The second and crucial issue was a resolution offered by Wright to 
the effect that no man and no government has the right to take the 
life of man on any pretext whatever. The debate was heated, both 
sides quoting Scripture and every speaker willing to fight for his 
own interpretation of peace principles. When the resolution was 
finally passed, it meant in effect the creation of a new organization, 
a fact that was recognized in the adoption of a new name, the New 
England Non-Resistance Society. 

The Declaration of Principles drawn up by Garrison and adopted 
as the constitution of the Non-Resistance Society is full of often 
quoted passages. 28 After a broad denial of allegiance to any human 
government and a refusal to admit the validity of state, national, or 
geographical boundaries, or of distinctions of caste, race, or sex, the 
Declaration went on to assert: 


Our country is the world, our countrymen are all mankind. We love 
the land of our nativity only as we love all other lands. The interests, 
rights, liberties of American citizens are no more dear to us than are 
those of the whole human race. Hence we allow no appeal to patriot- 
ism, to revenge any national insult or injury. . . . 

We conceive, that if a nation has no right to defend itself against 
foreign enemies, or to punish invaders, no individual possesses that right 
in his own case. . . . 

We register our testimony, not only against all wars, whether offen- 
sive or defensive, but all preparations for war; against every naval ship, 
every arsenal, every fortification; against the militia system and a stand- 
ing army; against all military chieftains and soldiers; against all monu- 
ments commemorative of victory over a fallen foe, all trophies won in 
battle, all celebrations in honor of military or naval exploits; against all 
appropriations for the defence of a nation by force of arms, on the part 
of any legislative body; against every edict of government requiring of 
its subjects military service. 

These beliefs, the Declaration continued, made it impossible for 
their adherents to hold office, to vote, or to sue or submit to suit. At 
the same time, being absolutely without malice or thought of vio- 
lence, they would abstain from plot, treason, or other "evil work" 
and would have nothing to do with "retaliation, violence, and mur- 
der." In no case would they "resist the operation of the law, except 
by meekly submitting to the penalty of disobedience." 

As Parrington says, Garrison's ideas were a somewhat naive 
amalgam of French equalitarianism and Yankee perfectionism. 24 
These ideas were elaborated in the columns of the Liberator and in 
the Non-Resistant, the organ of the new society. They received 
their most thorough discussion in 1846 in a pamphlet by Adin Bal- 
lou called Christian Non-Resistance in all its Important Bearings, 
Illustrated and Defended. Logical consistency was a part of Ballou's 
religion, and his delight in pushing his "Practical Christianity" to 
the limit of its communistic and pacifist implications brought him 
into the ultra camp both in politics and in philosophy. When in the 
heat of the slavery controversy Garrison forgot all his nonresistance 
ideas and approved the violence of John Brown, the more consistent 
Ballou commented sadly upon Garrison's defection. Ballou could 
understand the position of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who 
had always maintained, "I am a Non-Resistant, but not a fool," but 
he found it hard to forgive Garrison, whose original position had 
been so unequivocal. 


The crisis of 1838 forced upon the American Peace Society a 
position that grew increasingly difficult as the years went on, and 
the trend of events swept both parries on the rocks in the days pre- 
ceding the Civil War. The nonresisters were a minority in the peace 
cause, which was, in turn, one of the smallest and weakest of the 
reform movements of the day, but they were men prominent in the 
abolition and other movements and their ultraism was as disrupting 
there as in the peace crusade. There is, therefore, considerable sig- 
nificance in their principles, and their radicalism forms an important 
phase in the development of American political thought a radical- 
ism based upon religious perfectionism and democratic individual- 
istic philosophy carried to a conclusion that verged upon anarchy. 


The questions of the annexation of Texas and the entry of the 
United States into war with Mexico caused a brief revival of inter- 
est in the peace crusade. Since most of the peace advocates were 
abolitionists, and since the abolitionists were averse to the annexa- 
tion of more territory into which slavery might go, the cry of im- 
perialism and aggression with which the American Peace Society 
met the issue was both natural and popular. It would be difficult to 
prove, however, that the peace society had any effect on the course 
of events. Certain prominent men who were both 'abolitionists and 
members of the peace society were at the same time the leaders of 
the opposition to the government's action. That is as far as it is safe 
to go in connecting the peace crusade with the anti-imperialism of 
the middle forties. 

The chief spokesman of the opponents of the Mexican War was 
Charles Sumner, who rode to fame on the enthusiasm that greeted 
his oration at the Fourth of July celebration in Boston in 1845. 
Sumner was a "peace-man" and an abolitionist; he was also an ac- 
complished orator of the flowery and rhetorical school then in vogue; 
and his Fourth of July speech on "The True Grandeur of Nations" 
was a significant contribution to peace literature. 25 Sumner analyzed 
the causes and character of wars, described their horrors, and sum- 
marized the prejudices that had kept the custom of war alive. Look- 
ing sternly upon the uniformed men in the crowds about him, he 
questioned the value of standing armies, of the militia, of all forti- 
fications. "War," he concluded, "is utterly and irreconcilably incon- 


sistent with true grandeur/' and "the whole earth is the sepulchre of 
the Lord; nor can any righteous man profane any part thereof." 
Throughout the crisis Sumner spoke again and again in behalf of 
peace, and his addresses, reprinted by the peace society, were added 
to the propaganda literature. 

Theodore Parker, too, was drawn into the inner circles of the 
peace movement by the Texas-Mexican issue. He wrote: 

War is an utter violation of Christianity. If war be right, then Chris- 
tianity is wrong, false, a lie. Every man who understands Christianity 
knows that war is wrong. . . . 

We can refuse to take any part in it; we can encourage others to do 
the same; we can aid men, if need be, who suffer because they refuse. 
Men will call us traitors; what then? That hurt nobody in '76. We are 
a rebellious nation; our whole history is treason; our blood was attainted 
before we were born; our creeds are infidelity to the mother church; 
our constitution treason to our fatherland. What of that? Though all 
the governors of the world bid us commit treason against man, and set 
the example, let us never submit. Let God only be a master to control 
our conscience. 26 

The advocates of peace offered five hundred dollars for the best 
essay on the Mexican War issue, and the prize was won by Abiel 
Abbott Livermore with his treatise, The War with Mexico Re- 
viewed. The essay was long, statistical, dull; but it stated again the 
bases of the peace movement and, especially, its ideas on an inter- 
national peace structure. 

Much more widely read and effective were the Bigloiv Papers of 
James Russell Lowell, who, in the poetry and prose of the antiwar 
Hosea Biglow and the equally outspoken Birdofredom Sawin, gave 
voice to New England's antislavery and peace ideas. Said Biglow: 

Ez f er war, I call it murder 

There you hev it plain an' flat; 
I don't want to go no furder 

Than my Testyment fer that; 
God hez sed so plump an' fairly, 

It's ez long ez it is broad, 
An' you've gut to git up airly 

Ef you want to take in God. 

And the stalwart Birdofredom wrote that getting "nimepunce a day 
for killin' folks comes kind o' low fer murder." 2T 

Over the issues of Texas and the Mexican War the great Tran- 


scendentalist and individualist, Henry Thoreau, showed himself a 
forceful defender of the right of civil disobedience and an expo- 
nent of many of the tenets of Garrisonian anarchism, though he 
would not be a member of any organized antiwar movement. In 
1846 he was arrested for refusal to pay taxes to a government that 
tolerated slavery and war, and in 1848 he published an essay en- 
titled "Civil Disobedience" which has long been a classic in that 
field of political theory. Thoreau was not, in that essay, concerned 
with tyrants or dictatorship. He presupposed the American demo- 
cratic system of majority rule, free speech, and popular controls; but 
even a liberal government, he held, "becomes tyranny when it de- 
nies the right of the individual to be responsible for his intellectual 
and moral integrity." 

Government [he wrote] is at best but an expedient; but most gov- 
ernments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. 
The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and 
they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be 
brought against a standing government. . . . After all, the practical 
reason why ... a majority are permitted ... to rule is not because 
they are most likely to be right, nor because this seems fairest to the 
minority, but because they are physically the strongest. ... the only 
obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I 
thinK right. 

A common and national result of an undue respect for law is, that 
you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, 
powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and 
dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and 
consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces 
a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable 
business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. 
Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, 
at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? 28 


The peace societies of England and the United States had much 
in common from the beginning. The leaders were in constant cor- 
respondence, periodicals were exchanged, American peace pam- 
phlets were reprinted in London, English tracts were distributed in 
America, and, with the assistance of the London society, the peace 
literature in English was translated into various European languages 
and sent abroad. The Quakers who led the movement in Great Brit- 


ain seemed to feel that the United States was far enough removed 
from the scene of European international difficulties to play a promi- 
nent part in the cause of peace and were happy to be assured of 
American support. 

Both English and American leaders were interested in the spread 
of the cause on the Continent, and both had a share in the organiza- 
tion in 182 1 of the Societe des Amis de la Morale Chretienne et de 
la Paix in Paris. This French society was less democratic than the 
Anglo-Saxon movements, and its leaders were members of the aris- 
tocracy and intelligentsia and were often connected with the French 
government. It did, however, reprint in French the tracts and pam- 
phlets from London and the United States. Countries neighboring 
on France were interested as well, and a German edition of five 
thousand copies of Worcester's Solemn Review was put on sale in 
1820. The famous Prize Essays on a Congress of Nations sold heav- 
ily abroad, and the movement for "stipulated arbitration" was an 
international one. 

This friendly intercourse was greatly increased by the crises of 
the period from 1838 to 1854, when, first from one quarter and 
then from another, international peace was assailed. Anglo-American 
relations were generally poor in the first part of that period; Canada 
was restless, and there was international friction over the McLeod 
affair and over the case of the steamboat Caroline both episodes 
occurring during an outbreak of Canadian nationalism. After 1840 
the dispute over the Maine boundary became acute, and no sooner 
was that settled by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty than attention 
was drawn to the heated controversy over the Oregon question. In 
the same years the British government was involved in wars against 
China in the Far East and against the Afghans in the wild area north 
of India. American and British men of peace exchanged commiser- 
ations over such involvements of their respective countries. 

The years of the greatest international cooperation were also 
years when prominent Englishmen traveled in the United States, 
and many Americans made grand tours of European cities in pur- 
suit both of pleasure and information. Henry Barnard from the 
Connecticut Peace Society and Dr. Heman Humphrey, president 
of Amherst College, spoke at the annual meeting of the London 
Peace Society in 1835. In 1841 Joseph Sturge, one of the greatest 


figures in the British movement, traveled extensively in the United 
States, everywhere urging that Americans support the project of an 
international conference of the friends of peace to be held in Lon- 
don at the earliest possible date. The American Peace Society agreed 
in principle and entered into the plans for holding such a confer- 
ence immediately after the great antislavery convention in London 
in June 1843, thus taking advantage of the assemblage there of 
many men interested in both crusades. 

At this first international peace congress, which had an average 
attendance of about one hundred and fifty, the causes of wars were 
studied, and their economic aspects were stressed; propaganda meth- 
ods were analyzed; and many projects were aired for the control of 
trade in munitions, for arbitration, and for some sort of a congress 
of nations. The fourteen American delegates agreed with their Eng- 
lish friends that the meeting had been a great success, although they 
could point to no concrete accomplishment. 


Back in the United States once more, the enthusiastic delegates 
found less unity. The leader of the "reform group" was Elihu Bur- 
ritt, a new man in peace councils in 1 843 but soon to be the leader 
of the movement, at least in its international aspects. There was 
probably no more devoted soul in the front ranks of any of the re- 
form movements than Burritt, "the Learned Blacksmith." The old 
photograph of his lined, ascetic face with its sad, deep-set eyes con- 
firms the fact that here was no dross but only pure spirit; no per- 
sonal ambition, no narrow fanaticism, only an overwhelming love 
for humanity and a Christ-like faith in the imperishable nature of 
man's fundamental desire for good. As the peace movement in its 
earlier phases had depended upon Dodge and Worcester and Ladd, 
so in its later days Elihu Burritt was its center of inspiration. 

The career of this man had been truly American. He had little 
formal education but a great capacity for work and an incredible 
ability at learning languages. He taught himself Latin, Greek, He- 
brew, French, German, Spanish, and Italian while plying his trade. 
He supplemented his meager income by translating foreign books 
and by an occasional lyceum lecture on natural science. Both phi- 
lology and science brought him to a sense of the unity and interde- 


pendence of men and of their languages. War seemed to him a 
denial of that fundamental interdependence, and a lecture that he 
began on "The Anatomy of the Earth" turned into a dissertation on 
the problem of international peace. In 1843 Burritt lectured in Bos- 
ton with so much cogency and zeal that he caught the attention of 
the members of the peace society, who at once enlisted him in their 

cause. 29 

As a part of his propaganda for peace, Burritt worked out two 
effective methods of enlisting public support for the prevention of 
war over Oregon or Texas. Little leaflets bearing the title "Olive 
Leaf " were prepared and sent to hundreds of American newspapers 
and to peace groups abroad for republication in any interested pa- 
pers. Burritt claimed that he sent more than fifteen hundred of these 
fortnightly circulars to American papers and secured republication 
in about two hundred. In one "Olive Leaf' Burritt described a plan 
sent him by an English Quaker, concerned over the Oregon crisis, 
for an exchange of British and American opinion on that subject. 
The British press gave the scheme publicity and reprinted the "Olive 

With enthusiasm aroused in both countries, Burritt's office be- 
came the distributing agent for the Friendly Address movement, 
which was one of the interesting manifestations of international co- 
operation in the middle forties. British cities paired with American 
cities, and letters or "addresses" were exchanged, signed by the ad- 
vocates of peace in each community. Merchants' organizations, free 
trade societies in England, and laboring men's associations wrote to 
similar groups across the Atlantic, huge meetings being held to 
draw up the addresses and obtain an impressive number of signa- 
tures. Lucretia Mott, Quaker, abolitionist, and advocate of the rights 
of women, obtained more than three thousand signatures for a reply 
from Philadelphia to a letter from the women of Exeter; and four 
hundred merchants of New York commissioned Lewis Tappan to 
draw up their response to the merchants of Manchester. In short, 
while the American Peace Society contented itself with passing res- 
olutions condemning war with either England or Mexico, Burritt 
was largely responsible for a genuinely popular protest movement. 

In 1 846 Burritt took over the editorship of the Advocate of Peace 
and expanded its title to the Advocate of Peace and Universal Broth- 


erhood, which more nearly expressed his own views. In the same 
year he undertook the publication of a little periodical called the 
Bond of Brotherhood; which he had distributed in railway cars and 
on canal boats in order to reach a public that did not see the Advo- 
cate or the Friendly Addresses. 

All this work in antiwar propaganda led Burritt to feel that the 
American Peace Society should take a more positive stand in con- 
demning all war, and so in the summer of 1846 he and the radicals 
forced the issue in the convention of the society. Failing to secure 
the adoption of their platform, they resigned their offices and left 
the old society in the control of the conservative group. In the last 
number of the Advocate that he edited Burritt stated the policy of 
the radical faction and ended an account of his stewardship with the 
words, "Peace is a spirit, and not an intellectual abstraction; it is a 
life, not a theory." In his journal for 1846 he dedicated himself to 
the cause of reform, saying, "The greatest value I attach to life 
is the capacity and space of laboring for humanity." 80 

Convinced that his usefulness at home was at an end, Burritt 
went to England, where he was received with joy by the friends 
made through correspondence. Before leaving the United States, he 
had planned a new type of peace organization, and in England he 
at once won adherents to the project. He took over from the tem- 
perance societies the idea of a pledge and from his own philosophy 
the ideal of the brotherhood of man. With the aid of Joseph Sturge, 
he established the League of Universal Brotherhood as an interna- 
tional association to work for the abolition of war and still more for 
the promotion of friendly and fraternal relations between nations. 
The movement spread rapidly in England and Scotland, much more 
slowly in America. Membership in the League was effected by the 
signing of a pledge, which began with the statement: 

Believing all war to be inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity, and 
destructive to the best interests of mankind, I do hereby pledge myself 
never to enlist or enter into any army or navy, or to yield my volun- 
tary support or sanction to the preparation for or prosecution of any 
war, by whomsoever or for whatsoever proposed, declared, or waged. 81 

Burritt's new movement did not have the official support of the 
London Peace Society or of the American Peace Society; even the 
now feeble Non-Resistance Society was divided on the matter, and 


Edmund Quincy on the editorial page of the Liberator called it a 
humbug. Among the English people, however, the movement was 
popular, and within a year thirty thousand had signed the pledge. 
It spread to the Continent, where societies were formed that sent 
delegates to annual meetings held in England during the next dec- 
ade. The Crimean War marked the decline of the movement and 
its absorption into the stronger London Peace Society. 

During his years in England Burritt was also instrumental in 
bringing about the four international peace conferences that were 
held between 1848 and 1852. Each conference was well attended 
and received popular acclaim but produced no visible effect. It was 
all too apparent to the tireless advocate of peace that the congresses 
were not of a value commensurate with their cost, and he was con- 
tent to let the series end with the London conference of 1852. After 
1855 Burritt was back in the United States devoting his time to the 
cause of abolition and to a fruitless effort to prevent the Civil War. 

Horace Greeley, who attended a few sessions of the London 
conference, probably expressed a common sentiment when he wrote 
that, although he did not see how anyone who did not want to live 
by injustice, oppression, or murder could disapprove the idea of 
universal peace, yet he found the atmosphere of the conference in- 
tolerable and unreal, for, he said, 

. . . suppose there is a portion of the human family who <worit have 
Peace, nor let others have it, what then? If you say "Let us have it as 
soon as we can," I respond with all my heart. I would tolerate war, even 
against pirates and murderers, no longer than is absolutely necessary to 
inspire them with a love of Peace, or put them where they can no 
longer invade the peace of others. But so long as Tyrannies and Aris- 
tocracies shall say as they now practically do say all over Europe 
"Yes, we too are for Peace, but it must be Peace with absolute submis- 
sion to our good pleasure Peace with two thirds of the fruits of Hu- 
man Labor devoted to the pampering of our luxurious appetites, the 
maintenance of our pomp, lie indulgence of our unbounded desires 
it must be a Peace which leaves the Millions in darkness, in hopeless 
degradation, the slaves of superstition, and the hopeless victims of our 
lusts." I answer, "No Sirs! On your conditions no Peace is possible, but 
everlasting War rather, until your unjust pretentions are abandoned or 
until your power of enforcing them is destro